Female police officers in Afghanistan are fighting harassment in co-ed changing facilities and restrooms at the hands of male colleagues, according to a recent report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In the story, released today, HRW found that women in the Afghan police force face sexual harassment, assault, and even rape from male colleagues. Many of these attacks occur in changing rooms and bathrooms, which have peepholes or no locks. Women are forced to stand guard for each other while they change or use the restroom. On April 10th, the police chief ordered that all stations have separate facilities for women, however such orders have been ignored before. Despite a goal of increasing the number of women in the Afghan police force to 5,000 by 2014, women currently only make up 1% of the country’s police and the conditions faced by women present a recruitment challenge. A senior official, who asked to remain anonymous, told reporters, “Men whose rank is junior to me won’t salute me. They don’t value women as they should… I am supposed to recruit women, but people say they can’t send their daughters because it is not safe.”
The attitude toward women in the police force combined with the small numbers of women police officers have broader implications for the women of Afghanistan, according to HRW. The organization is concerned that without women police officers to assist victims of sexual and gender violence, including fellow police officers, cases will not be reported out of fear of cultural retaliation. Brad Adams, the Asia Director for the HRW, said “The Afghan government’s failure to provide female police officers with safe, secure facilities makes them more vulnerable to abuse. This is not just about toilets. It’s about the government’s recognition that women have a crucial role to play in law enforcement in Afghanistan… Without the consistent presence of female police officers across the country, legal protections for women will remain an unfulfilled promise.”