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

Thu Jan 16, 2014 6:21am EST
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By Jessica Donati and Hamid Shalizi

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 publicized 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 armored 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.   Continued...

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