An Afghan policewoman was appointed as head officer in a major city last week, with such an unusual move illustrated by the fact she was issued four bodyguards upon appointment.
Colonel Jamila Bayaaz joined the force more than 30 years ago and will now head one of Kabul’s busiest shopping districts.
Interviewed on Wednesday, Bayaaz said she hoped to inspire other women and improve paltry numbers in police ranks in the post-Taliban era, despite highly publicised recruitment drives.
One aspiring officer, she said, had already visited her office with an application.
“She was very excited and told me that when she saw me on television she was encouraged to serve as a policewoman. I was surprised,” Bayaaz said in her office, bedecked with flowers from well-wishers. “My priority is to protect women and help them recruit in the police force through this job.”
Joining the police force is a brave but risky move. Working alongside unrelated men in a deeply conservative society exposes women to criticism and most will suffer some form of abuse from male colleagues.
Hence the four bodyguards, twice the number usually allotted to a comparable male officer. And the armoured car.
“I know there are dangers and threats in this job, but I don’t worry about them. I focus on my job, how to make things better,” Bayaaz said.
Creating a female police force was considered an important victory for Western efforts to promote equality after a U.S.-led military coalition toppled the Taliban in 2001.
Forced by the Taliban to wear the head-to-toe burqa, unable to leave home on their own and barred from schools, women were supposed to secure basic freedoms. But gains have been limited.
Colonel Bayaaz added that she was completely dedicated to the role and would not be stepping down any time soon, despite a number of possible obstacles.
She said: “People’s mindset has changed a lot towards women and become more radical,” she said. “My children and husband are worried about my job, but I can’t quit simply because they say so.”