Making policing count for women in Afghanistan

Colonel Jamila Bayaz
Colonel Jamila Bayaz this year became the first woman to head a police district in Afghanistan. UNDP Photo

She was supposed to be an engineer, but Jamila Bayaz was not going to shy away from what she knew was her calling in life. After a year of engineering studies at Kabul University she convinced her family to let her join the police force.

That was three decades ago when a career as a policewoman in Afghanistan was unorthodox to say the least. Even today, there are only around 1,690 female officers in the Afghan National Police – comprising less than 2 percent of the nation’s police officers.

Afghan female police must contend with multiple risks and challenges. Most police stations lack even basic facilities such as separate toilets for men and woen. There are cases of harassment by male colleagues and of insults and violence directed at policewomen by the community members they are duty-bound to protect.

“There are threats, including insecurity, which are prevalent in this country. But this is the path that I’ve chosen. This is my duty and I go on, step by step, so I’m not frightened at all,” she says.

Highlights

  • There are close to 1,690 female officers in the Afghan National Police – comprising less than two percent of national police officers
  • Afghanistan to recruit 10,000 policewomen in the next three years
  • In partnership with UNDP, the Republic of Korea supports gender responsive policing reform and innovation in Afghanistan’s Interior Affairs Ministry
  • New reforms mean police are more accessible to women and more aware of gender-sensitive responses

Col Bayaz, softly spoken yet formidable, remains unperturbed.

Her district has close to 300 police personnel, 8 of them women. Determined to encourage a new generation of professional policewomen, Col Bayaz leads by example.

“My message to all my Afghan sisters and also to women all over the world is that they should fight against any inequality to gain whatever they believe are their rights from their perspective,” she urges.

Having risen through the ranks in one of the world’s toughest policing environments, in January Colonel Bayaz became Afghanistan’s first female district police chief. She now runs one of Kabul’s most important police districts which includes the presidential palace and central bank.

“The nature of rights is such that you can’t just wait for them to be granted. They have to be earned. No matter if you’re a man or woman, you should go through the challenges to gain your rights,” says Col Bayaz who speaks from experience, having earned respect serving in the Afghan National Police criminal investigation and counter-narcotics departments.

For Afghanistan to build an effective civilian police service that reflects the diverse society it works in, there is a crucial role for female officers. Gender segregation in Afghan society prevents most women and girls from approaching male police officers to report crimes, hence the importance of having policewomen available to respond.

Through the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan (LOTFA), founded by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in 2002, there has been a concerted effort to empower female police, boost their numbers and improve their work environments.

UNDP provides a range of support for gender equality in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior Affairs, which oversees the national police force. There has been progress with the recruitment, training and promotion of policewomen, and the gains are hard-won.

About our police reform work in Afghanistan
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In order to strengthen Afghanistan’s ability to maintain law and order, UNDP helps the country build and maintain a professional police force: the Afghan National Police. The Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan (LOTFA) is a mechanism established in 2002 by UNDP to enable the international community to mobilize resources to strengthen the country’s law enforcement.

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