Kabul's new female police chief aware of danger, hopes to inspire others

KABUL Thu Jan 16, 2014 4:39pm IST

Colonel Jamila Bayaaz talks on the phone at her office before an interview in Kabul January 15, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

Colonel Jamila Bayaaz talks on the phone at her office before an interview in Kabul January 15, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Mohammad Ismail

KABUL (Reuters) - An Afghan policewoman took charge of a district in the capital Kabul this week, such an unusual and dangerous appointment in a country where women have few rights that her bosses gave her four bodyguards.

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 publicised recruitment drives.

One aspiring officer, she said, had already visited her office with an application.

"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 colleagues.

Hence the four bodyguards, twice the number usually allotted to a comparable male officer. And the armoured 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 said.

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.

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 organisers 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)

FILED UNDER:
Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

TOP SHOWCASE

Tax Regime

Tax Regime

New govt promises low and stable tax regime for economic revival  Full Article 

Mideast Conflict

Mideast Conflict

Israel rejects ceasefire plan, source says as death toll nears 850  Full Article 

Jadeja Fined

Jadeja Fined

Jadeja fined over Anderson altercation in first test  Full Article 

India Insight

India Insight

Markandey Katju: Ex-India Supreme Court judge stirs the pot.  Full Article 

Army in Islamabad

Army in Islamabad

Wary Pakistan puts military in charge of capital's security  Full Article 

Motor Racing

Motor Racing

Force India happy to retain drivers, says Mallya  Full Article 

Drogba's Back

Drogba's Back

Chelsea re-sign striker Drogba  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage