Sunday, May 23, 2010

A place for women?

A few weeks ago I was invited by a female captain at Camp Eggers to attend a planning session at the European Police headquarters. As a civilian and non-government organization outreach liaison, Aheather is responsible for working with Afghan, U.S. and NATO groups to facilitate progress and implement change.

She’s worked on everything from getting Afghan National Security Forces to invite and help pay for families to attend basic training graduations to facilitating women’s rights talks. The planning session centered around a team of engineers, Afghan National Police leadership and European police who were meeting to discuss how to adapt existing and future Afghan police office buildings for female police officers.

The challenge was multi-faceted – policewomen need a separate area to receive female citizens, question suspects and if necessary, incarcerate them. They also need a safe and again, separate, area for themselves to work, including a break area and bathroom facilities. Women also need a separate entrance to their facilities from the men, which must be secure and clearly marked so the local female citizens will feel comfortable enough to visit the police office. All of this needs to be kept apart from the men’s facilities – separate but equal, right?

And the biggest challenge of all – however they designed the women’s facilities, they couldn’t be too nice, or the male police would take over the area for themselves. Very gentlemanly.

The initiative to provide a space for female police officers is just that – it’s in the very beginning stages, but with the help and cooperation of Afghan police leadership, it will hopefully come to fruition. It has multiple benefits – women citizens will be able to seek help or report crimes to the police, women suspects can be kept separate from male suspects (something that should always happen, no matter what the culture) and it serves as a recruitment tool; husbands, fathers and brothers will be more likely to grant permission for their female relatives to join the police force if they know that cultural and religious sensitivities will not be violated.

Already there are police office buildings being modified for women. While I would personally like to see a solution that includes men and women working together, I realize that it might take their culture a very long time (if ever) to get to that point. In the meantime, it’s an encouraging sign that they are indeed making a place for women in the workforce.

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