Gunman in Afghanistan puts spotlight on the dangers facing Afghan policewomen

Gunman in Afghanistan: Five men were arrested today in connection with the second killing of a top policewoman in less than two months.

By , Staff writer

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    An Afghan policeman searches a man at a checkpoint in Kandahar, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 16, 2013. Security forces are on high alert after the top policewoman in southern Afghanistan died early Monday after being shot by unknown attackers, months after her predecessor was also slain.
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Five men were arrested today in Afghanistan for their role in the killing of the most senior female police officer in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, who was seen as a symbol of improved women’s rights as Western troops pull out and hand over security responsibilities to Afghans. 

Lieutenant Negara, known only by one name like many Afghans, was shot dead yesterday, marking the second time in a little over two months that a woman holding this position was killed. Ms. Negara was a sub-inspector in Helmand’s police criminal investigation department. She became the highest-ranking female police officer in Helmand Province after her predecessor (also a woman) was murdered in July.

Recommended: How well do you know Afghanistan? Take our quiz.

The killings have put a spotlight on the dangers facing Afghan women who take on high-profile public roles. 

“We have received warnings from the Taliban that they will kill each of us within three months," said one female police officer who did not want to be named, according to PRI's the World. "They said that they will kill every single policewoman in Helmand within three months."

While attitudes toward women in Afghan society has improved in some ways since the Taliban rule, literacy rates among Afghan women hover around 12 percent; more than 90 percent of women here believe that their husbands are justified in beating them if they misbehave, and there are high cultural hurdles ahead for them.

Afghan women have not traditionally entered the workplace, political analyst Candace Rondeaux told the World. When they do it upsets political, cultural, and economic norms.

When Lt. Islam Bibi, Ms. Negara's predecessor, was murdered in July, many human rights campaigners said it showed that the small gains that women have made in Afghanistan in the past decade are already being reversed as Western forces withdraw, reported the Telegraph at the time

Both women were considered role models for other women in a province that is still a hotbed of Taliban insurgency and where few women are ever seen on the streets. And women police officers face a daily battle not only against militants, but against perceptions about what Afghan women can and can't do. 

"Violence against women in Afghanistan is pervasive and increasing," the United Nations' executive director for women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said in response to Negara's killing.

Indeed, Reuters reports that more than 4,000 cases of violence against women and girls were reported to Afghanistan's Ministry of Women's Affairs between 2010 and 2012.

Women in Parliament have faced numerous threats, The Christian Science Monitor reports. Last month insurgents ambushed the convoy of a female Afghan senator, seriously wounding her and killing her 8-year-old daughter and a bodyguard, according to Associated Press.

But police women seem to be a favorite target, and several have been threatened or killed recently, including Lt. Col. Malalai Kakar, one of the best-known policewomen in the country, who was shot dead by the Taliban in 2008.

It may come as no surprise that efforts to recruit women into Afghanistan's police force have had only limited success. According to a July report released by Oxfam, the national police force employed just 1,551 policewomen out of 157,000 as of July. Women make up only about 1 percent of the police force in Afghanistan, according to The Guardian. 

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