Nothing to cheer about
Fewer and fewer women are enlisting in the national army and police.
The country was once a model in the South Asia region for affirmative action. Thirty percent of all personnel in the police and army were meant to be female.
But information gleaned by Killid reveals a mere 2.4 percent of staff in police headquarters in the western provinces are women; and only 0.56 percent in the army's 207 Zafar corps.
Jobs in the security forces are no longer as attractive to women because of worsening social prejudice, gender discrimination, sexual harassment and security risks.
While the combined strength of police in the western provinces is roughly 12,000 and the military roughly half that, there are 34 women on the rolls in the latter and 296 in police head quarters and commandments of the western provinces.
The province-wise break up of women in the police is as follows: 200 in Herat, 49 in Farah, 22 in Badghis and 25 in Ghor. Very few are posted outside provincial capitals.
Yet, security officials in the western zone insist that far from declining, the number of women in the police has increased in every province a little more than compared to under the previous Karzai government. This, they say, is the result of the Ministry of Interior Affairs providing more opportunities for women and raising awareness about the activities of women police.
According to police authorities, women from officer grade to colonel grade are working in both administrative and security areas in seven districts of Herat, Farah and Ghor provinces. Yet, they admit that a shortage of female police in the western zone has hindered search exercises in houses and investigations involving women.
According to Aminullah Amin, security head at Herat police headquarters, while there was a requirement of 400 female police only 200 joined the provincial police.
While 10 policewomen are posted in Shindand and Rubat Sangi districts, none of the other districts in Herat have women in the police. Amin said the police were trying to build up trust with tribal elders so more women would be encouraged to enlist. Women between 18 and 30 years with a
Baccalaureate graduation certificate are eligible to join the ranks of the police.
Herat police have been holding monthly meetings with policewomen to address any concerns that they may have particularly about safety.
Fazel Ahmad Sherzad, the provincial police chief told Killid 49 policewomen are on the rolls in Farah police headquarters. While six are posted in the districts – Jowand and Gulistan – the rest are in the provincial capital.
Sherzad admits female police are hardly visible in the province and there is need to enlist many more. The number of women in police ranks increased from 20 to 49 after the establishment of the present government of national unity.
Both the provincial government and police are trying to recruit more women into the police through awareness raising and training programmes. He sees a role for police women in tackling crime and terrorist attacks. There should be more women in police ranks at the district level, he adds.
The female police are active only in the centre of the province. In fact, the government has sought to compensate the security risk to policewomen with a financial incentive of 40,000 Afs (580 USD) additional salary.
According to Abdul Rawoof Taj, provincial police chief, the incentives have helped raise the number of women in police ranks from five to 25 in three years.
He believes the shortage of female police is a security challenge.
The province too has not been able to enlist many women in the police. Ghulam Mohsen Mohseni, the police chief of Ghor, says there are a total of 22 policewomen; six of them work in the districts of Dolina, Shahrak and Dawlatyar. Earlier there were only 10 women in the provincial police, he adds.
Women were inhibited about joining the force because of patriarchy and social customs, and reports of sexual discrimination. The government, however, insists there was no change in its affirmative policy of 30 percent women in the army and police.
The numbers of women soldiers in the western zone are similarly far too few.
Mohammad Nasim Maihandost, a deputy in the recruiting centre for the national army in the western zone, told Killid 34 women who were absorbed between 2004 and 2017 made the officer grade as lieutenants.
Ten of them were from Herat and the rest from the other provinces like Daikundi, Farah, Bamiyan and Ghazni.
Maihandost says the recruits are posted in administrative jobs or wireless operations in the army's 207 Zafar corps.
All high school graduates between 18 and 26 years are eligible to join the national army. Women in the military enjoy more privileges and perquisites than their male counterparts. For those who want to continue with their studies the government pays the school fees.
Afghan women are inhibited by social customs and orthodoxy about choosing the military as a career. According to Maihandost, the National Army Volunteer Commandment is seeking to increase the presence of women in the Afghan army through separate sessions with authorities of education and women's affairs to encourage women to join.
While the authorities in the western zone speak about strategies to attract more women in the security forces, the experience of women in the army and police are far from encouraging to other women.
Sima, a policewoman in Herat for more than 10 years, says women have to deal with discrimination and harassment from male colleagues. Also, a majority of males in the force will not trust women with sensitive or risky work. Sima says she has stayed at one level since she joined even though she has expressed an interest to shift to work in key positions of security institutions.
She told Killid that male bosses make "illegal demands" in return for recommending women for promotions.
Many women have appealed to the Ministry of Interior Affairs to address the problems they face in rising to active work at the management and leadership levels.
Suraya (name changed) who is in the Afghan National Army says, "We want to learn tactics of counter terrorism like the men and fight in the battlefield in defence of our country."
Sonia (name changed) who is with the army's 207 Zafar corps questions the commonly held perception that the situation is not safe for women and they must not be put at risk.
Mahmoor Jami who monitors the police in the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) says women are reluctant to join the police because of its poor track record on security, sexual discrimination, personal attacks and comments on looks and colour. AIHRC has written to security organisations to plug the holes and raise the profile of women in the police and military.
Jami says female members of the ANA and ANP have submitted 50 written complaints to the AIHRC. While a majority of the complaints (35) were from Herat, the others were from Ghor, Badghis and Farah provinces. The complaints range from sexual harassment to failure to allocate a "proper place" for female personnel. Jami says AIHRC has shared the complaints with police officials.