The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS) released a joint study with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) on the role of women in the security sector in Afghanistan.
Women constitute only two percent of police officers in Afghanistan. The Afghan government and international partners are accelerating their efforts to recruit and build the capacity of women officers, as women are seen as integral to improving the operational effectiveness of Afghan security forces.
“This study aims to inform the recruitment, training, and retention of women police by exploring the reasons Afghan women are motivated to join the police force and the ways that they can be supported to become more effective officers,” said Ambassador Melanne Verveer, executive director of GIWPS.
Afghan women officers surveyed and interviewed in the study expressed fears and reported prior threats of violence due to the nature of their work, which challenges traditional cultural attitudes about women working outside of the home and alongside men. Many recruits emphasized the unavailability of changing rooms and lack of privacy for women in the police force. Not being able to change out of uniforms poses a security risk as walking to and from work in a police uniform may increase the likelihood of women officers being attacked. Another major concern expressed by respondents is resistance and harassment by their male colleagues. Many women voiced the urgent need to educate and engage male officers on acceptable conduct towards women.
“The work environment of the police force needs to be more responsive to women’s needs,” said Makiko Kubota, Gender Advisor in JICA and co-author of the study, who has worked with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Afghanistan.
Almost half of the women interviewed in the study reported that they had previously experienced physical or sexual violence in their personal lives. Some said they were transforming their pain into a sense of justice and joined the police force to advance women’s peace and security across Afghanistan. Across respondents, 30.4% indicated that one of their main motivations for joining the force was “justice for perpetrators of violence against women and children.”
Only 15 percent of women officers reported that they hoped to engage in field duties. These women tended to have experienced severe poverty or violence, or had previous work experience. Most hoped to do administrative work, as working in an office is seen as one of the safest positions and is also considered to be higher status than working in the field.
The majority of recruits expressed concern about their safety, as all police officers in Afghanistan are at risk of violent attacks and murders. Female officers are particularly vulnerable, and respondents expressed concern about being assigned night patrol duties, which could increase their chance of being assaulted or raped. Respondents also indicated that a major concern about the pursuit of police work was opposition from family members who were concerned with the perceived risks, low pay, and negative perception of women officers.
“The GIWPS-JICA joint study provides recommendations to improve the experiences of women police officers in Afghanistan,” said Briana Mawby, a research fellow at GIWPS and co-author of the report. “These include developing programs to sensitize male colleagues and ensure accountability measures in the event of work place harassment, and also creating networks for women police officers to support interpersonal and institutional connections.”
The study is based on questionnaires, focus group discussions, and interviews with Afghan women who participated in a JICA-supported training at the Sivas Police Training Academy in Turkey from October 13 to 27 in 2015. The original research was conducted jointly by Georgetown and JICA.