Algeria's women police defy danger and stereotypes

Thu Aug 6, 2009 1:41pm EDT
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By Christian Lowe

ALGIERS (Reuters Life!) - Fatma-Zohra Benehmed watched her 26-year-old daughter graduate on Thursday from a police training academy in the Algerian capital and recalled how, at first, she was worried by her choice of career.

Even in relatively liberal Algeria, some people believe the police force is not a suitable profession for a Muslim woman, and, whatever your gender, it can be a dangerous job: Islamist insurgents have killed hundreds of officers.

"To begin with, I didn't want her to," Benehmed said, as her daughter and about 500 fellow female cadets displayed skills that included firing blank rounds from sub-machine guns and dismantling then re-assembling firearms in under 30 seconds.

"But she has persevered so much and I am happy. I respect her ... She wanted to do it. You have to be brave and you have to encourage your children. And besides, it's for our country."

Relatives of the cadets ululated and clapped while a group of young women, dressed in dark blue overalls and heavy boots, hurled each other to the ground in a demonstration of their hand-to-hand fighting skills.

In many parts of the Arab world, where conservative attitudes to the role of women in society are widespread, scenes like this would be unthinkable.


But Algeria, a former French colony in North Africa where almost all the 35 million population are Muslim, takes pride in the fact that equality for women is enshrined in its laws.   Continued...

<p>Female police cadets perform during their graduation ceremony at the police academy in Ain Benian August 6, 2009. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra</p>