Women For Justice: Afghan Policewomen’s Lessons of Bravery


Today I make my debut in the blogosphere with a series of stories about women, but this will not be a string of feminist rants or sob stories. I simply believe that in order to understand and eventually solve the questions that face our planet, we need to be intimately familiar with the role of women. As mothers, as workers, as thinkers, and as advocators for change, women have an immense power to transform and indeed improve the fabric of society. Making up just about fifty percent of the population, they deserve a voice.

Two weeks ago, Second Lt. Nigara was shot and killed while off duty just outside of her home in Hemland Province in Southern Afghanistan. As a policewoman, Nigara had situated herself in a very unlikely and risky situation: a women working in a male-dominated profession in a country that has been objectively proclaimed by a Reuters Foundation poll the world’s single “most dangerous place for women.” But this shooting, and two others that killed high-ranking female police offers in Afghanistan this past July, were hardly a warning to women to stay inside the house and away from the world of men. They were the retaliations of Taliban terrorists and drug smugglers, seeking revenge for foiled suicide bombings and other crimes. Women officers may be the primary targets of violence against the police, but in some sick sense, these shooting demonstrate that anti-Taliban policing is one area of Afghan society in which women have reached a very high level of gender equality. Women are proving themselves to be a powerful force in the fight for justice. In an interview in 2006, Nigara takes pride in the the strength her womanhood brings, saying “The smugglers and terrorists are threatening me, saying I should give up, but I tell them that I am an Afghan woman, and I won’t leave the job as long as there is blood in my veins.”

Although Nigara has passed away, there are still thirty policewomen in the province to carry on Nigara’s legacy of bravery. Women make up about one percent of the Afghan police force, but according to EUPOL Afghanistan, the Ministry of the Interior hopes to significantly increase the number of Afghan policewomen. Women policewomen serve an incredibly important purpose in Afghanistan: where a man simply cannot conduct domestic searches and female pat-downs due to religious and societal norms.  Policewomen play a key role in preventing domestic violence and promoting the safety of Afghan women; a policewoman is often the only person to whom an Afghan woman feels comfortable reporting a crime. However, the police force still needs to significantly improve its capacity to integrate women into the force: on the small scale, female bathrooms must be built at police stations, on the large scale, the force needs to do more to ensure the safety of policewomen like Nigara against angry criminals.

(Eupol Afghanistan)
(Eupol Afghanistan)

Other countries are facing similar, though often less extreme, pressures as they integrate women into their police forces. In China, women are still having trouble achieving legitimacy as officers in the eyes of their male colleagues. In late 2011 in Henan province, a female police officer was arrested after being mistaken as a sex worker while off duty. Her attempts to show here police badge were completely ignored as two male police officers arrested her with no evidence.

Regardless of the difficulties policewomen face, people around the world recognize the importance of women in the force. The International Association of Women Police is an organization formed in 1915 that supports the integration of women into police forces in countries all over the globe. Whether it’s India’s all-female undercover mission to arrest loitering men this past August or Mexico’s numerous drug-fighting female police chiefs, women are playing their part in bringing criminals to justice. At an IAWP meeting in South Africa this September, South African Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa addressed the women of the nation: “You should be seen as a force to be reckoned with in the fight against crime.” Second Lt. Nigara certainly was that force and her memory will serve as an inspiration of bravery and dedication to justice for women, police officers, and citizens around the world.

Anna Russo ’17 is in Berkeley College. Anna writes about women’s issues around the world, focusing on health and education. Contact her at anna.russo@yale.edu.