Struggle for Bamyan’s policewomen

17 May 2009

Struggle for Bamyan’s policewomen

BAMYAN - Five years ago, in the central province of Bamyan in Afghanistan, one woman walked into a police station to join up.

At a time when women were scared of even walking in front of police stations, Nahida Reza, 26, took this brave step; now there are 14 more policewomen in Bamyan.

Detective Nahida Rezai is the head of the Family Response Unit at Bamyan’s office of the chief of police. She has resolved dozens of cases involving women, including forced marriages, which usually result in girls running away from home, and other serious violations against women.

In the early days as the first policewoman in the area, Nahida, who’s a mother of three children, faced many difficulties. She was demoralized, intimidated and threatened by phone calls. But she never gave up.

“A few people think it’s immoral and don’t accept women as police, but I know it’s not their fault. It’s because of illiteracy and ignorance,” said Nahida.

According to Nahida, her family was very supportive when she decided to wear the uniform of a police officer. Even when she received threatening phone calls her husband still encouraged her.

“My husband works for a private company and earns enough to run the family. When I decided to join police he supported me very much,” said Nahida.

She believes Afghan society will not progress until men give women equal rights and involve them in all walks of life.

Nahida’s decision to be a policewoman has now encouraged another 14 women to join the force.

“There are now 15 policewomen in Bamyan mainly dealing with women related issues. Women were at first hesitant to come and file a complaint. But now as they know policewomen will be hearing them they have no fear,” said Nahida.

But now she is worried about women who don’t have policewomen in their districts: “How can a woman in Afghanistan tell a strange man her true story. I am afraid many women don’t speak up and many criminals go unpunished.”

Nahida has seen that many family disputes are further complicated when they are sent to the courts, yet she has resolved many such cases by involving community and family elders.

Now though Nahida is not satisfied with the support given to women in Afghanistan. She says it’s hard for policewomen to get promotions and the authorities think women can not handle high positions, which she says is not true.

For Nahida the real reason for women’s vulnerability is illiteracy: “I ask mothers to send their girls to schools, so that they don’t have to suffer the way we did.”

By Jaffar Rahim, UNAMA