Thursday, September 17, 2009
Afghan women in Afghan National Police are making history
Thirteen women are quietly making history in the most conservative corner of Afghanistan thanks to the support and mentoring of an MOD police officer.
It was when Isabella McManus, an MOD police officer who recently deployed to Afghanistan, visited the police headquarters in Helmand province that she noticed a small group of women who sat in the corner; untrained, unnoticed, without uniform and without motivation.
However, Ms McManus saw promise in the women and decided to see what she could do to increase their confidence and potential as members of the Afghan National Police.
Ms McManus explained:
"It wasn't my job to start mentoring the women specifically but they struck a chord with me. They were ignored entirely at the police headquarters and it wasn't right.
"They needed a uniform giving them some status and they needed training and equipment. I've fought those battles with them every step of the way and we are getting somewhere. The women are empowered and it's great to see."
One recruit, known as Miriam, said:
"I think of myself as equal to the men. The men don't agree but I feel right doing this job. I have no fear and I am happy.
"I encourage myself to be the best and although there are only a small number of us I know that we can boost the level and morale of women in Afghanistan. What we are doing is good for the future of women here."
With the guidance and support of Ms McManus the women are achieving truly extraordinary things. One of the women, Wooranga, has a fierce reputation within the police force.
After spending 20 years in the Army during the time of the Russian invasion, she is a force to be reckoned with and a figurehead for the other women in the ANP.
The 39-year-old is married to a 100-year-old man and is the breadwinner in her household. She openly tells people about her work in the ANP and claims to be afraid of nothing. This was evident when during a night raid on a compound near Nawa she came face-to-face with a Taliban fighter.
"I went into the compound first, while the male police officers waited outside. As I stood on a wall I saw one of the enemy pointing an AK47 towards me. I launched myself off the wall, landing on top of him and wrestled the weapon from him.
"Then I called to the men to help me. The Taliban fighter was surprised by what I did."
Wooranga is also credited with stopping two suicide bombers from detonating devices and, on a separate occasion, karate-kicking a remote control from the hands of a terrorist intent on detonating a device in Lashkar Gah market, for which she received a reward from the police headquarters.
Ms McManus said:
"I sat down with the women and we designed something that would be culturally acceptable but would allow them to wear their rank with pride. They are starting to feel valued and the number of recruits has almost doubled since I've been here.
"It's an incremental process but, in a province where women are often expected to be seen and not heard, what these women are doing is truly amazing.
"Last month they helped to provide security for the election polling stations. They are literally making history. They are few in number but they are paving the way for Helmandi women to have a very different future."
The names of the women have been changed to protect their identity.