Afghan women at risk while police force remains 99 percent male, says Oxfam

By ebhatti

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More women are urgently needed in the Afghan police force in order to reduce violence against women and ensure the safety of all Afghans, according to a report published today by international aid agency Oxfam.

The report, Women and the Afghan Police - why a law enforcement agency that respects and protects females is crucial for progress, says that despite investment and national recruitment campaigns, less than one percent of the national police force are women. Twelve years after the fall of the Taliban, violence against women is on the increase and Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman, particularly a policewoman.

“Afghan women need Afghan policewomen to protect them. Violence against women is endemic but without female police officers, Afghan women are reluctant to report crimes and get the justice they desperately need,” said Oxfam’s Policy and Advocacy Advisor, Elizabeth Cameron.

With full transition to Afghan security forces looming, more must be done to ensure that Afghan women have access to, and the means to become an integral part of, the security forces.

While reports of violence against women in Afghanistan has risen 25 per cent in 2011-2012 alone, millions of Afghan women will never see a female police officer in their communities, let alone be able to report a crime to one, with just one female police officer for every 10,000 women. Two provinces, Panjshir and Nuristan, have no policewomen at all.

Women who join the Afghan police face enormous danger and challenges, both inside and outside the police force. They face opposition, violence and even death from their own families and communities who do not view policing as a respectable job for women.

Policewomen suffer sexual harassment and assault from colleagues and superiors, with requests for sexual favors in return for promotion reported in some provinces. They have few career prospects or opportunities to work with victims of crime and sexual abuse – areas where they could make the most impact in their communities.

The report also found that policewomen often lack basic items such as uniforms and the proper equipment to perform their jobs.

“Afghan policewomen are risking their lives to serve their communities. They are harassed and killed because of stigma and ignorance. More must be done to build awareness and respect for policewomen and the crucial role they play in ensuring the safety of all Afghans,” said Cameron.

Oxfam is calling on the international community and the Afghan government to do more to recruit, train and retain policewomen. Improving the safety and role of policewomen must be a priority in the reform of the Afghan National Police currently underway.

“The clock is ticking for Afghanistan as we approach 2014. The gains we have seen in women’s rights over the years are in serious jeopardy if the rule of law and the role of the Afghan police force are not improved. Afghan policewomen should be doing more than making tea. Effective policewomen, safe in their jobs, are a critical factor in sustaining change for the better,” said Cameron.

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