The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)

Afghan policewomen stand up for their rights

A policewoman is not hired to wash dishes. But it has taken a lot of effort to challenge that perception in Afghanistan, where UNOPS supported a project to improve the capacity and motivation of police to protect their people.

With funding from the Netherlands, one of the focuses of the project was to establish Policewomen Councils in Balkh and Bamyan provinces to lobby for the rights and needs of female police officers.

Afghan policewomen face a range of problems; from a lack of female toilets and childcare facilities, to confusion over their role in the department, they are not short of determination.

"As a woman, I feel that I can bring some changes, while serving my people and improving security for all," said Hakima, one of the members of the Balkh Policewomen Council.

Established in 2013 in collaboration with non-governmental organization, Afghan Women's Network, the councils support policewomen in several ways, such as encouraging further learning opportunities and advocating for the elimination of ethnic, gender or religious discrimination in the workplace.

And they have achieved promising results so far.

In 2014 a senior policeman made an unprecedented formal apology to a female officer for his abusive conduct, following pressure from the Bamyan Policewomen Council.

In Balkh, the policewomen now have proper winter uniforms and boots – previously, the department had issued the standard male uniforms, which were culturally inappropriate.

"Before we had the council to represent us, most of us used to buy the fabric and sew the uniforms ourselves," policewoman Fatima said.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Policewomen play an important role in Afghanistan where the culture demands that only women can search other women. In recent years, male suicide bombers disguised as women have gone undetected. © UNOPS/Elise Beacom ​

The councils have also raised the profile of policewomen in their communities, empowering members of the general public to report sensitive issues such as domestic violence.

"In one case, a woman was very sick at home but her family refused to let her see a doctor. She went to her neighbour for help, who then reported the case to me," policewoman Maryam said.

"She was living with her husband's family, which is commonplace in Afghan culture, but they didn't care that she was sick because she was infertile," she continued.

The $4.2 million Afghanistan Democratic Policing Project was implemented in a partnership between UNOPS, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Interior and eight Afghan civil society organizations between 2013 and 2016.

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