Women and the Afghan Police: Why a law enforcement agency that respects and protects females is crucial for progress

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Only 1 per cent of the Afghan National Police is female. Although female police are vital for Afghan women to be able to report crimes and access desperately-needed justice, few women in Afghanistan will ever encounter one. Further action is urgently needed to recruit, train, retain and protect Afghan female police officers. This is critical for upholding the rights of Afghan women and girls and can contribute to sustainable peace and development efforts in Afghanistan.
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  173 OXFAM BRIEFING PAPER 10 SEPTEMBER 2013 www.oxfam.org  Badam Bagh women's prison ©Lalage Snow, 2011. WOMEN AND THE AFGHAN POLICE Why a law enforcement agency that respects and protects females is crucial for progress Only 1 per cent of the Afghan National Police is female. Although female police are vital for Afghan women to be able to report crimes and access desperately-needed justice, few women in Afghanistan will ever encounter one. Further action is urgently needed to recruit, train, retain and protect Afghan female police officers. This is critical for upholding the rights of Afghan women and girls and can contribute to sustainable peace and development efforts in Afghanistan.  2 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY  Afghanistan‟s first policewoman took up her duties in 1967    –  three years after Afghan women gained the right to vote. Yet, as with many aspects of the country‟s development, subsequent decades of political upheaval and conflict took their toll and when the Taliban swept to power in 1996, women were banned from serving in the police. Over the past decade, the Afghan Government and international donors have worked hard to rebuild the country‟s basic institutions, including the  Afghan National Police (ANP). The Government has launched several initiatives to recruit women into the ANP, resulting in a gradual rise in their numbers. In 2005, the ANP employed just 180 women out of 53,400 personnel. In July 2013, 1,551 policewomen were serving out of 157,000.  All Afghans stand to benefit from more effective and responsive law enforcement in which policewomen play their part  –  but none more so than women and girls in a country where domestic violence, forced marriage, sexual assault, and honour killings are shockingly common. Official figures are distorted by underreporting but in reality as many as 87 per cent of Afghan women suffer at least one form of physical, sexual or psychological abuse, according to a credible 2008 survey, with more than half experiencing multiple kinds of violence and abuse. 1  Significant underreporting  –  which contributes to the lack of prosecutions and a culture of impunity  –  occurs partly because social norms prevent most Afghan women from approaching male police officers. Despite the gradual progress in female staffing, policewomen still only represent 1 per cent of ANP personnel, with very few deployed in rural areas. Consequently, few Afghans ever see a policewoman, leaving most women and girls unable to report crimes and threats against them. Compounding this, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission found that many honour killings and sexual assaults against women have been committed by the police themselves. Such crimes undermine public trust in the ANP and, by association, the legitimacy of the Afghan state. Effective, independent oversight of the ANP is required to improve accountability, police behaviour and public trust. SERIOUS CHALLENGES  Accelerating the recruitment of policewomen is a key part of the solution. However, numerous challenges exist and efforts to reach the target of 5,000 policewomen by the end of 2014 are set to fail. These challenges, therefore, must be better addressed not only to recruit more women, but to ensure they stay in their jobs and serve their communities effectively. One such challenge is sexual harassment and assault by male colleagues. A 2012 investigation by US-based National Public Radio found allegations of widespread sexual abuse and rape of policewomen   3 in Mazar-e-Sharif, capital of Balkh Province, which has the third largest number of policewomen in the country. NPR said it found evidence that senior policemen demanded sexual favours in exchange for promotions.  Although the tashkeel   (organizational structure) of the ANP reserves 3,249 jobs for female civil servants and police officers, women fill fewer than half these jobs. This is partly because many provincial chiefs of police are reluctant to accept female recruits. However, there is very little pressure on police chiefs to recruit more women, nor on the Afghan Ministry of the Interior (MoI), which oversees the ANP, to initiate reforms. Negative attitudes and practices persist after women have been recruited. Policewomen often lack basic items, such as uniforms, which male colleagues receive. Many find themselves performing menial tasks (such as making tea) and receive little or no training. Opportunities to develop their careers are extremely limited, leaving intelligent and ambitious policewomen unmotivated and unfulfilled. Meanwhile, some policewomen lack the basic skills and motivation to serve their communities but are still promoted to jobs reserved for women. Such problems undermine confidence in policewomen and fuel negative male attitudes towards them. To an extent, this is part of a wider social problem: an estimated 70  – 80 per cent of the ANP are illiterate, with illiteracy rates among policewomen even higher. Discriminatory attitudes and lack of awareness also need to be tackled on a wider public level. Many policewomen and potential recruits face opposition from their own communities, who often see policing as a disreputable job for an Afghan woman. Effective information campaigns and even the promotion of fictional role models (e.g. in television dramas) can make a positive difference. PRIORITISING SOLUTIONS To address these challenges, the Afghan Government, with donor support, should prioritise and implement a coordinated, adequately resourced strategy to recruit more policewomen and provide them with essential training. They also need to improve retention rates by ensuring they are safe from abuse, respected and provided with the necessary facilities to perform their duties. This should include efforts to recruit and retain better educated women, particularly university graduates, by ensuring merit-based promotion and offering fast-track schemes. Once trained, policewomen should be assigned to professional policing roles, particularly within Family Response Units and in community policing. At the same time, male police should receive effective gender training and better understand relevant laws, especially those designed to protect women from abuse. 1  Where appropriate, names have been changed for security reasons. ‘We are too ashamed to tell men our problems. But a woman is like us: she feels as we do.’    Mariam, 1  an 18-year old, female victim of violence from Logar Province. 2    ‘  Half of our society is female so just having male police is not enough. It is impossible to carry out searches of women or houses, or to solve cases, particularly involving violence against women, without female police. ’    Colonel Samsoor, a police commander in Kabul. 3    4 Understanding the nature of any problem, implementing solutions and measuring progress is virtually impossible without adequate information. The UN in particular has an important role to play in improving the collection and use of sex-disaggregated data. This would also make it easier for donors to monitor the issue and the impact of their aid. There are significant opportunities to help achieve these goals. For example, the Afghan Government and international donors have launched an initiative to transform the paramilitary ANP into a civilian law enforcement agency: the first large-scale police reform in the country. The Ten Year Vision includes the target of a 10 per cent female workforce in the ANP and MoI by 2024  –  a realistic and appropriate step towards the long-term objective of an effective and responsive ANP. Strengthening women‟s participation in the police also help s Afghanistan meet its responsibilities to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325. This seeks to improve women‟s role and i nfluence in post-conflict contexts and strengthen measures that enforce their human rights  –  all of which contributes to building a just and lasting peace.  Afghanistan‟s first National Action Plan for UNSCR 1325 provides an opportunity to ensure that actions designed to promote women‟s roles  and enforce their rights complement each other, thereby maximising their impact. Ministries aiming to implement the Afghan National Action Plan (NAP) and related initiatives will require UN support. International missions such as NATO can set positive examples, for instance, by maintaining NATO gender advisers to help implement the organisation‟s  own NAP and by ensuring that training and mentoring programs are gender-sensitive. WHO BENEFITS? Why does this matter in a country facing a multitude of social, economic and political challenges?  Afghanistan‟s people, its institutions, its stability and security, as well as donors seeking to maximise the impact of their aid, all potentially benefit from more effective policewomen as part of a more responsive and accountable ANP. The likely impact on women and girls is clear. Although Afghanistan has a constitution and laws designed to protect and uphold women's rights, they are not consistently enforced. A more female-friendly ANP would increase women‟s access to the formal justice system and assist the implementation of, for example, the historic 2009 Elimination of Violence  Against Women (EVAW) law, which criminalises child marriage, forced marriage, rape and other violent acts against women and girls. Successfully tackling this issue has potentially wider positive impacts. As the UN noted in its EVAW report in 2012: „ Ultimately, improvements in EVAW law implementation and reduced incidents of violence against women can lead to improved protection of Afghan women‟s rights, in turn strengthening their active and crucial role in society and in efforts to achieve durable peace, security and prosperity in Afghanistan. ‟  
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