Soon after her 18th birthday, Zahra’s father attempted to force her into a marriage with an abusive drug addict.
Scared, with no one to turn to for help, Zahra ran away from home and sought out the local police. Rather than take her seriously, the police—all of whom were men—ignored her. Left with no other options, Zahra returned home to months of abuse and anguish.
Today, Zahra lives in a Kabul shelter with other women who have suffered abuse, many of whom were also victimized by the police.
“At first I trusted the police, but now I can’t,” Zahra says. “A policewoman would have been good for me. If there are policewomen we can easily say everything to them—she understands how women feel.”
Zahra’s experience is all too frequent in Afghanistan. Despite $60 billion in aid and development investment in the 12 years since the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous places to be a woman. 87% of Afghan women have experienced some form of violence, and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission reports that nearly 15% of honour killings and sexual assaults carried out against women in the last two years were by the police.
Every day women are raped, beaten and forced into marriage, but few of these crimes are reported. Too often this is because there is simply no one to whom they are able to turn, as women make up less than 1 per cent of Afghanistan’s police. For there to be any reduction in the escalating rate of violence against women in Afghanistan, there must be more Afghan women police to protect Afghan women.
Mary Akrami is head of the Afghan Women’s Skills Development Center (AWSDC), an Oxfam partner that runs the shelter where Zahra now lives. She says that for every woman who is able to come to find a new start in a shelter, there are thousands more who are trapped with nowhere to go.
“We need to recruit more policewomen in stations all across the country. They need training not only in law, but also in the special needs of women so they know when rights have been violated and prosecution is necessary,” Mary says. “We cannot exclude half the population. If a woman can see another woman in the police station, it will have an enormous effect not just on women’s rights, but on Afghanistan’s development.”