Married off at 12 years old to an abusive husband more than four times her age, Maryam wanted to join Afghanistan’s police force to help others avoid an all-too-familiar plight in a country where women’s voices often go unheard. A mother of three, Maryam is one of the women who make up less than one percent of Afghanistan’s National Police. They wear knee-length olive green skirts over thick trousers with navy hijabs.
The 22-year-old’s eyes light up when she talks about her job, one widely viewed in deeply conservative Muslim Afghan society as off-limits for women. This sentiment is shared by her father, who has stopped speaking to her and moved out of the family home because she works in an office with men who are not relatives.
“I am serving my country, which needs kind, honourable and honest women who are able to solve specifically women’s problems. We need policewomen as well as men,” Maryam, who only gave her first name, told Reuters. “With this job, you get to feel like a human being in this society. I love it,” she added, enthusiastically gesturing her manicured hands in a small room in the heavily barricaded Interior Ministry in Kabul, which has been repeatedly bombed in recent years by Taliban insurgents.
Women number up to 1,000 of Afghanistan’s 126,000 police officers. Afghan officials and the West, who do most of their training, say female police fill much-needed gaps in a society where the two sexes must often be separated.