Today I had the unique opportunity to interview a very dynamic woman; her name is Shafiqa and not only is she a colonel in the Afghan National Police, she’s been nominated by Secretary Hilary Clinton as one of 10 International Women of Courage. Colonel Shafiqa joined the police almost 28 years ago, when she was a young girl hoping to serve her country, and has seen destruction and devastation brought by the civil war and the rise of the Taliban that I can only imagine. During the eight years the Taliban was in charge, she was forced to stay at home but she quickly returned to service and advanced through the ranks despite the many cultural obstacles in her way … and in a few days time she’ll not only celebrate her first wedding anniversary, but also her promotion to general.
Although during our interview, Colonel Shafiqa said she wasn’t scared to wear her uniform to and from work, there are many policewomen who are; they leave their homes in a burqa and change at work. This isn’t the result of paranoia – in September 2008, two Taliban assassins shot and killed a senior policewoman, Malalai Kakar, who served as the head of the department responsible for investigating crimes against women.
A few weeks ago I attended a police women’s conference in Kabul where I spoke with several policewomen; a few mentioned that security was a big concern and one of the main reasons women are so reluctant to join the police force. One woman, an 18-year police veteran, told me that if the Taliban kills 100 men, it’s nothing, but to kill one female is a significant accomplishment. That is the fear and power these insurgents have over the Afghan women, yet there are a brave few who risk everything to make a better life for themselves and for their people.
Despite the inherent risks involved with police work, Colonel Shafiqa is listening to the fears and wishes and is doing everything she can to make the ANP a safer place for women to serve, including offering reduced hours and having a choice over assignment location. Unlike their male counterparts, female trainees will be allowed to go home at night to be with their families, while existing female police members will only work during the day to mitigate risks associated with nighttime duty.
It is my hope that Colonel Shafiqa’s goal of seeing women commanding large units and serving at high-level ministry positions, happens in her lifetime. With her serving as an example for the women of Afghanistan, I have no doubt it will.