Police Recruit More Women to Bolster Searches

Female officers at checkpoints will stop male insurgents dressed in burqas.

Police Recruit More Women to Bolster Searches

Female officers at checkpoints will stop male insurgents dressed in burqas.

Afghanistan’s interior ministry hopes to recruit up to 5,000 women police officers, no easy task in a traditional Muslim society - at present it has just 700 women in a force of 97,700.

While they won’t be fighting insurgents like some of their male colleagues, they will staff checkpoints to deal with the problem of male rebels who at present get through dressed in burqas, often hiding guns or narcotics under their folds.

Fatima, 20, saw a recruiting advertisement and is standing in the cold outside the police academy, waiting to be called inside.

"Recruiting women to the police is a good decision. Many boys and girls have no hope when they leave school. This is the best chance for them to serve their people and country," she said.

"I am personally interested in police work. I want to do something for the people.”

The deputy interior minister, General Munir Mangal, says the recruitment of more women will make the work of the police easier.

"We face problems while searching and operating in houses and some other suspicious places, because the people do not let male police enter their houses and search women. Local people always complain, asking us to use female police to search their houses," he said.

They are also needed for security work in jails, airports and checkpoints around Kabul, he said.

Colonel Shafiqa Quraishi, head of the gender department in the interior ministry, acknowledged to IWPR that the recruitment drive would present problems in a society where most people do not allow their women to work in the security forces and because of the ongoing violence in parts of the country.

She said the hiring of 5,000 new female officers would be undertaken in cooperation with members of the provincial councils, tribal elders, religious scholars and influential local individuals.

The country only has 700 female police at present, out of a total force of 97,000. "The current number is too small to meet our needs," Quraishi said.

She said recruits from 9th to 11th grades – typically 16 to 18 year olds - will be trained for four and a half months and would be appointed sergeants after the completion of their course. Those from the 12th grade, normally aged 19, would be trained for three years and will emerge as second lieutenants. All will be paid during their training and recruits are accepted up to the age of 30.

Quraishi said the authorities are also making police training an option for students applying for university.

A spokesman at the interior ministry, Zemarai Bashari, says that he is sure that most Afghans would allow their daughters to join the police as they would their sons, "We have started advertising through the media. We also advertise through religious scholars and tribal elders in villages and remote areas of the country so that the people will be encouraged to allow their daughters and sisters to join the police."

Policewomen at present generally do not take part in military activities, working instead on checkpoint searches and interrogations.

Zainab, wearing her winter police uniform, is happy in her work at checkpoint in front of the ministry of interior, searching women who pass through. She joined the police a year ago, "When I was a child, I liked the police uniform. In those days, I wanted to be a policewoman. Now, when I put on my uniform and come to work, I feel very proud. I cannot wait to go to work."

Experts say it will be a considerable achievement for the ministry of interior if it is able to recruit women.

Kabul police chief General Ali Shah Paktiawal told IWPR women working in the police at the moment are very valued members of the force, "In police operations, it has happened many times that the suspects hide themselves in women’s clothing. They transfer weapons, narcotics and antiquities wearing women’s clothing and burqas. Having women among the police will prevent this behaviour by criminals.”

But the public have differing opinions about policewomen.

Kabul resident Ahmad Nazari, 27, says that the tradition and culture of Afghanistan as well as Sharia law do not allow women to work as police officers. "Afghans have a proud history of protecting their prestige and religion. What kind of person's wife, daughter or sister will stay out at night doing police work, particularly in the current situation while there are the thieves, addicts and bad men among the police?” he said.

Sima, 22, a student at Kabul University, disagrees, "We do have social problems. But women make up half of society. Will a society not be disabled if half of it is not encouraged to work? Besides, police work is holy work.”

Habiborrahman Ibrahimi is an IWPR trainee.
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