Afghanistan’s First Female District Police Chief: Colonel Jamila Bayaz
Afghanistan: Pioneering police chief paves way for women
She was supposed to be an engineer. But Jamila Bayaz lasted a year studying engineering at Kabul University before finally convincing her family to let her join the police force.
That was three decades ago when such a career for a woman in Afghanistan was astounding. Even today, there are only around 1,690 female officers in the Afghan National Police – comprising less than 2 percent of the nation’s police officers – well below the government’s target of recruiting 10,000 policewomen over the next three years.
Afghan female police must contend with multiple risks and challenges. Most police stations simply do not cater for female employees and lack even basic facilities, like separate toilets. There are cases of harassment by male colleagues and of insults and violence directed at policewomen by the community members they are dutybound to protect.
- As of February 2014, there were close to 1,690 female officers in the Afghan National Police – comprising less than two percent of national police officers
- In January 2014, Colonel Jamila Bayaz became Afghanistan’s first female district police chief
- In partnership with UNDP, the Republic of Korea supports gender responsive policing reform and innovation in Afghanistan’s Interior Affairs Ministry through LOTFA
- Around 120 Gender Mainstreaming Units, supported through LOTFA, ensure government gender-related interventions are implemented at provincial and district level, including the recruitment of female police personnel
Having risen through the ranks in one of the world’s toughest policing environments, in January Colonel Bayaz became Afghanistan’s first female district police chief. She now runs one of Kabul’s most important police districts which includes the presidential palace and central bank.
Col Bayaz is softly spoken yet formidable. “There are threats, including insecurity, which are prevalent in this country. But this is the path that I’ve chosen. This is my duty and I go on, step by step, so I’m not frightened at all,” she says.
Her district has close to 300 police personnel, including eight women. Determined to encourage a new generation of professional policewomen, Col Bayaz will mark International Women’s Day on 8 March. “My message to all my Afghan sisters and also to women all over the world is that they should fight against any inequality to gain whatever they believe are their rights from their perspective,” she urges.
“But the nature of rights isn’t something that should be given. It’s something that should be taken. No matter if you’re a man or woman, you should go through the challenges to gain your rights,” says Col Bayaz who speaks from experience, having earned respect serving in the Afghan National Police criminal investigation and counter-narcotics departments.
For Afghanistan to build an effective civilian police service that reflects the diverse society it works in, there is crucial role for female police. Gender segregation in Afghan society prevents most women and girls from approaching male police officers to report crimes, hence the importance of having policewomen available to respond.
Through the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan (LOTFA), founded by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in 2002, there has been a concerted effort to empower female police, boost their numbers and improve their work environments.
UNDP provides a range of support for gender equality in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior Affairs, which oversees the national police force. There has been progress with the recruitment, training and promotion of policewomen, but the gains are hard-won and cannot be taken for granted.