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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 October 2007, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
Afghan policewomen face uphill battle
By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Kabul

Afghan policewomen take part in a parade of uniforms at The Serena Hotel in Kabul
Under the Taleban regime women were banned from working
Two by two the women walked down the impromptu catwalk in the hotel gardens, showing off their well ironed, shiny-buttoned uniforms.

The fashion show featured policewomen from across the Muslim world, in Kabul to give advice and a morale boost to the Afghan women outnumbered by the men in their force by 250 to one.

Getting policewomen out on the beat is a long way off in this traditional and conservative society, but there is a lot more they could be doing.

"It's a chance for all the women to see each other's uniforms, to be able to compare notes and to see what is appropriate for women doing policing in an Islamic society," said Tonita Murray, the senior police and gender advisor for the Afghan Ministry of Interior.

Khadeja Shojai
Sometimes wearing the uniform is hard for us - if we wear it some people may attack or kill us
Khadeja Shojai
She is leading the policewomen's conference which is designed to help Afghan women gain confidence through sharing experiences with those from places like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Some of the uniforms have head covers built into their peaked caps or are long and baggy - to be acceptable in a place where just a few years ago women were beaten in the streets by the Taleban for being unaccompanied or not totally covered from head to toe.

Even today many women in Afghanistan still wear burkas, or are almost completely covered.

Society's rules make it difficult for women to be independent, but Khadeja Shojai is a young policewoman who is determined to do her job well.

She trains recruits at the Police Academy, teaching them the basics, and even leads Kung Fu classes.

"Sometimes wearing the uniform is hard for us," she says. "If we wear it, some people may attack or kill us, but I like to wear my uniform to go to the office because our society needs to understand we have female police officers.

"If they want to kill me they can."

There are around 62,000 policemen in Afghanistan and just 240 women.

An Afghan policewoman takes part in a parade of uniforms at The Serena Hotel in Kabul
The meeting highlighted women's contribution to the force

The Afghan force does not have a good reputation outside the capital.

Corruption is a huge problem within the poorly paid ranks, and despite the billions being spent by the international community, there has been little progress.

Encouraging more female officers is part of that remit, and Tonita Murray acknowledges it has to be a gradual process in such a conservative country.

"Afghan policewomen are beginning to have an impact but at the moment they are still not being utilised to the degree they could be," she said.

"They could be in intelligence, criminal investigation, forensic science or most importantly doing community policing and working with women and children, but still they don't have the independence."

It will be a long time before there are women out on the beat in Kabul, and there are only a handful in senior roles, but after decades of war and repression suffered under the Taleban it was always going to be a slow process.

Afghan women take police training
16 Feb 04 |  South Asia
Country profile: Afghanistan
03 Aug 07 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Afghanistan
03 Oct 07 |  Country profiles

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