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Women struggle in Afghan police
Protecting, recruiting and retaining women in the Afghan national police is more challenging than ever.


It's four years since Afghanistan introduced a landmark law aimed at eliminating violence against women. But human rights groups say the law is yet to be properly enforced, and in the past few months there've been a series of murders and kidnappings of high-profile women, including some of the country's top female police officers.
Transcript
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: It's four years since Afghanistan introduced a landmark law aimed at eliminating violence against women.

But human rights groups say the law is yet to be properly enforced. And in the past few months there've been a series of murders and kidnappings of high-profile women, including some of the country's top female police officers.

That's made protecting, recruiting and retaining women in the national police more challenging than ever.

Kate Arnott reports.

KATE ARNOTT, REPORTER: Joining the Afghanistan National Police is viewed by many as a death sentence, especially for women.

In mid September, 38-year-old first Lieutenant Negar was on her way to work at the criminal investigation department in Helmand Province when she was shot dead by two gunmen on a motorbike. No-one has claimed responsibility for the killing, nor for the shooting death of Negar's predecessor in July.

But human rights groups and other female officers suspect Taliban insurgents.

MALALAI, AFGHAN POLICE OFFICER (translation): They've given us a warning that one of us will be killed every three months, and that we will be killed one by one.

KATE ARNOTT: When the Taliban came to power in 1996, women were banned from serving in the police force. The regime was removed in late 2001, and since then president Hamid Karzai has implemented several programs to recruit female officers, with limited success.

Aid agency Oxfam says even now only 1 per cent of the Afghan National Police is female. In July, there were 1,500 female officers in the force, compared to 155,000 men.

HELEN SZOKE, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, OXFAM AUSTRALIA: There is a perception that it's culturally inappropriate and there are some very old fashioned ideas I think about, and quite dangerous ideas, about what contribution women can make to law enforcement.

KATE ARNOTT: In its report 'Women and the Afghan Police', Oxfam says female officers face sexual harassment and assault by male colleagues, and many find themselves performing menial tasks.

HELEN SZOKE: We have to make the police force more responsive, a place where women can serve their duty and not just serve cups of tea. Where women aren't marginalise because they choose to serve their country by going into law enforcement.

KATE ARNOTT: Twenty-eight-year-old PariGul is a rare sight on the streets of Afghanistan. She joined the police force seven years ago, and is the only female officer working at this checkpoint in Kabul, a province that's one of the most accepting of women in uniform.

She's well aware of the risks she's taking but it determined to make her city safer.

PARIGUL, AFGHAN POLICE OFFICER (translation): We are the police and we should be brave. Several times I have arrested criminals. I'm trying to be brave in order to serve my country. I'm doing this not for money, just for my people and for my family.

KATE ARNOTT: PariGul says her uncles won't talk to her because of her job, but she considers herself fortunate to have the support of her husband.

And her boss, Colonel Samsoor, says it's impossible to do his job effectively without more female officers.

COLONEL SAMSOOR, KABUL STATION COMMANDER, DISTRICT 9 (translation): Right now we have seven women who are working in this department. Some of them are working in security, some of them in human rights and some in the violence against women department.

Soon we'll hire two more women police to make it nine in total. Next year we want to double that number.

KATE ARNOTT: Colonel Samsoor agrees with Oxfam's view that because few Afghan women and girls will ever come into contact with a female officer, many of them feel unable to report serious crimes against them.

HELEN SZOKE: We know that in Western societies that it's often very difficult for women to talk to policemen when it's issues to do with violence, whether it is domestic violence or whether it is sexual attacks or sexual assaults. And that's something that's really exacerbated within the context of Afghanistan.

KATE ARNOTT: Last year, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission reported 6,000 registered cases of violence against women. In reality, though, human rights groups say research indicates more than 85 per cent of Afghan women suffer some form of physical, sexual or psychological abuse.

In 2009, the government implemented the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law, but it's had little impact.

NAVI PILLAY, UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: Violence against women remains endemic, and I have urged the relevant authorities to do their utmost to speed up and improve the implementation of this important law.

KATE ARNOTT: With female police officers key to making this law work, pressure is on President Karzai and his government to better protect, recruit and train them. Human rights groups say the need is even more critical now with international forces due to withdraw from Afghanistan next year.
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