Colonel Jamila Bayaaz, who joined the force more than 30 years
ago, heads one of Kabul's busiest shopping districts.
Interviewed on Wednesday, Bayaaz said she hoped to inspire other
women and improve paltry numbers in police ranks in the post-Taliban
era, despite highly publicized recruitment drives.
One aspiring officer, she said, had already visited her office with
"She was very excited and told me that when she saw me on television
she was encouraged to serve as a policewoman. I was surprised,"
Bayaaz said in her office, bedecked with flowers from well-wishers.
"My priority is to protect women and help them recruit in the police
force through this job."
Joining the police force is a brave but risky move. Working
alongside unrelated men in a deeply conservative society exposes
women to criticism and most will suffer some form of abuse from male
Hence the four bodyguards, twice the number usually allotted to a
comparable male officer. And the armored car.
"I know there are dangers and threats in this job, but I don't worry
about them. I focus on my job, how to make things better," Bayaaz
Creating a female police force was considered an important victory
for Western efforts to promote equality after a U.S.-led military
coalition toppled the Taliban in 2001.
Forced by the Taliban to wear the head-to-toe burqa, unable to leave
home on their own and barred from schools, women were supposed to
secure basic freedoms. But gains have been limited.
POLICEWOMEN UNDER ATTACK
Women in high-profile positions are often targeted by insurgents or
conservative male relatives. Policewomen have suffered some of the
more deadly attacks.
In southern Helmand province, the most senior female member of the
force was killed last year, as was her successor.
Numbers remain around 1,700, far below a target of 5,000 set by
President Hamid Karzai for the end of 2014.
Bayaaz had previously worked on the Criminal Justice Task Force
tracking smugglers. And like most female officers, she wore no
uniform — a sure way to attract unwanted attention.
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Now, she works in a crisp, green jacket studded with shiny badges
and tight-fitting trousers.
Witness to the convulsions that have gripped Afghan society since
the 1980s, Bayaaz worked at Kabul airport during the decade-long
Soviet occupation, a job she said was easier than now. Under the
Taliban, she raised her five children at home.
With Afghanistan in flux as foreign troops prepare to leave, her
family was supportive, though well aware of the dangers.
"People's mindset has changed a lot towards women and become more
radical," she said. "My children and husband are worried about my
job, but I can't quit simply because they say so."
A shortage of female staff is one of the greatest challenges facing
organizers of presidential elections due in April.
Polling stations are segregated and about 12,000 women are needed to
carry out female body searches to guard against bombings. But fewer
than 2,000 policewomen are available.
Bayaaz's appointment comes up against the reluctance of women
victims of violence to report abuse to a force in which 1 percent of
officers are female. And a culture of impunity remains entrenched
among male officers in terms of harassment.
"No one has been prosecuted, that's for sure. What normally happens
is that a huge amount of pressure is put on women to withdraw their
complaints," Elizabeth Cameron, senior adviser in Afghanistan to NGO
Oxfam, said by telephone.
"Having a head of district is just fantastic and it sends a very
strong signal to policewomen in Kabul — and to policemen."
(Editing by Maria Golovnina and Ron Popeski)
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