Making Afghanistan a Safer Place: 250 Women Police Return From Training in Turkey
12 February 2017, Kabul, Afghanistan – For 24-year-old Nabila, becoming a police officer was not only a childhood dream but a sacred duty. This was something she felt she had to do after witnessing the suffering of women in her community.
But it was not an easy decision for the mother of a 6-year-old in a town where only two women had ever been brave enough to join the police force. She had to go up against neighbors who said women police were “despicable” and “corrupting the minds of other girls”.
“The main reason I wanted to become a policewoman is because in Afghanistan women suffer a lot and cannot defend their rights,” said Nabila adding that only women can really understand the problems of other women.
- Since 2013, UNDP and the Ministry of Interior Affairs, with funding from Japan, have trained nearly 1,000 female officers in Turkey.
- Less than 2% of Afghan police are female officers, further limiting women’s access to justice and police services
- 250 female officers just graduated in January
- One of them, Nabila, is only the third female officer in her entire town of more than 70,000 people
Luckily for her, she had a supportive family who encouraged her to join the nearly 3,000 female officers who make up less than 2 percent of Afghanistan’s police.
She has also been supported by the Afghan government and the international community. Since 2013, UNDP and the Ministry of Interior Affairs, with funding from the government of Japan, have trained nearly 1,000 female officers at a state-of-the-art training facility in Turkey.
Nabila was part of the latest batch of 250 trainees, and returned to Kabul in mid-January.
The training involved a round-the-clock schedule that included classes on law enforcement, computing, physical training, first aid, dispute resolution, community policing and crime scene investigation, as well as time at the shooting range and conducting simulations. The relentless training in below zero temperatures aimed to strengthen cadets physically and mentally, and prepare them for the worst conditions possible.
For Nabila and her classmates, the day began at 6am and ended at 8pm. She proudly ironed her uniform every morning and was normally one of the first in the class.
“The day I put on the uniform I felt empowered,” she said. “I felt I had put on the skin of a lion.”
In addition to learning all aspects of modern policing and self-defense, the program boosted her self-confidence as a policewoman.
“Now I can defend myself if I face problems. I feel secure with being a policewoman.”
The total number of Afghan police has climbed to more than 157,000 since the force was rebuilt in 2002. But finding and retaining women has proven a major challenge. The government plans to bring the number of female police to 5,000 by 2020, an ambitious target that will require courageous women like Nabila to come forward and fill the gap.
There is also an urgent need for reform and improvement in working conditions and treatment of female staff. Most police stations lack dedicated female facilities – even toilets – and women are still subject to harassment and not given the respect and authority they need to fully perform their jobs.
“Changing any workplace culture is a long-term process, but we expect to see steady improvements in safety and treatment for female police this year,” explained Dawn Del Rio, who heads UNDP’s Rule of Law Unit.
“UNDP is already working with the Ministry of Interior Affairs on developing a protection strategy and is actively involved in the deployment of these officers” added Del Rio.
The strategy includes deploying female officers in clusters of at least three per department, establishing a hotline for women who face harassment and creating female police committees. UNDP is also building female dressing rooms at 60 police facilities across the country.
“I think I will face some problems now I am back,” said Nabila. “But I am not afraid, because I love this profession and I chose it despite the risks. Allah has given us a life which will end one day somehow, and I want to spend my life in the service of my people.”