KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — If you think it’s tough to be a female in Afghanistan, try being a female cop.
Few places on earth are less “female friendly” than this embattled country, to say nothing of the ultra-conservative Muslim bastion of Kandahar city, where newly minted female Afghan National Police officers are gathered in a secret location for classroom training.
It’s a remarkable sight in a city known as the spiritual home of the Taliban, a regime notorious for subjugating women and forbidding girls from going to school — an attitude that persists to this day in the city, where female residents are only ever visible as burka-clad apparitions.
“They face a lot of challenges in their field of work; sometimes I wonder why they enrol to be ANPs, knowing all of these challenges they face,” admitted Const. Annie Lacroix, a Montreal police officer who works in Kandahar as a mentor to the women.
Of the group, four of them have already had basic police training, but all have already been exposed to the dangers of daily police work, she added.
“They put them out on the road and then eventually they get trained. And they have a lot to train still.”
The first day of class, conducted by two senior female ANP officers from Kabul, consisted of general discussions about police work and principles of law enforcement. Day 2 was a bit more hands on — teaching basic first aid and CPR with the help of plastic dummies lying on the floor.
Learning to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the dummies elicited plenty of laughter from the participants, and a hearty round of applause for each successful effort.
“On- and off-duty, the women in Kandahar city are more at risk than their male counterparts, so we want to empower them,” said RCMP Cpl. Karen Holowaychuk, a veteran of training programs at the RCMP Training Academy in Regina.
One of Holowaychuk’s counterparts from Kabul, Lt.-Col. Jamilla Berekzai, was the only female officer in the group willing to be both interviewed and photographed.
“For two years, I have been training females who want to get more information about law and police,” Berekzai, a 10-year veteran of the ANP, said through an interpreter. “In the past Taliban regime, we were not allowed as females to go out from the home. Now is the time that nobody tells us not to go out. We are allowed to go anywhere and we can participate.”
There are more than 200 female ANP officers in Kabul, but only about 20 in Kandahar.
“There is no huge difference between Kabul and Kandahar, except one,” Berekzai said with a wry chuckle. “The people of Kandahar just don’t want their wife or daughter to go out from the homes.”
The two-week female security awareness course covers everything from the basics of criminal law to first aid, firearms and self-defence.
“It’s police basic training, but very condensed, which is much better for women because it’s very hard to get a female ANP into training,” Lacroix said.