Insight: Once a symbol of new Afghanistan, can policewomen survive?

Wed Dec 19, 2012 1:10am EST
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman

KABUL (Reuters) - Shortly after Friba joined the Afghan National Police, she gave herself the nickname "dragon" and vowed to bring law and order to her tormented homeland.

Five years later, she is tired of rebuffing the sexual advances of male colleagues, worries the budget for the female force will shrink and fears the government will abandon them.

Women in the police force were held up as a showcase for Afghan-Western efforts to promote rights in the new Afghanistan, born from the optimism that swept the country after the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.

Images of gun-wielding Afghan policewomen have been broadcast across the globe, even inspiring a television program popular with young Afghan women.

But going from the burqa to the olive green uniform has not been easy.

In Reuters interviews with 12 policewomen in districts across the Afghan capital, complaints of sexual harassment, discrimination and bitter frustration were prevalent.

President Hamid Karzai's goal is for 5,000 women to join the Afghan National Police (ANP) by the end of 2014, when most foreign troops will leave the country.

But government neglect, poor recruitment and a lack of interest on the part of authorities and the male-dominated society mean there are only 1,850 female police officers on the beat, or about 1.25 percent of the entire force.   Continued...

An Afghan policewoman wears handcuffs during a training session in a classroom at the Afghan National Police Academy in Kabul December 9, 2012. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani