KABUL (Reuters) - Even as a young police officer, Afghan police Captain Camelah Wali suffered regular beatings at the hands of her husband.
Now in her fifties, she sits on the front row of a brightly-lit classroom of about 35 Afghan policemen and 15 policewomen at Kabul’s Police Academy, listening to how today’s law in Afghanistan is meant to protect women from domestic abuse.
“(My husband) did not like my job. He would beat me often. The police never came to help me, but I didn’t want to go to them for help either,” Camelah said.
A report by the United Nations last year said violence against women in Afghanistan is deeply-rooted and widespread, compounded by the fact that the country has been at war for almost three decades and is also one of the poorest in the world.
“There’s a lot of domestic violence in Afghanistan ... it’s the responsibility of the police to help Afghan women and to defend their rights,” Camelah said during recess.
In conservative Muslim Afghanistan, where women were excluded from public life under the Taliban and where forced marriage and honor killings are still common, the idea that it is wrong to beat a spouse is still anathema to some policemen.
“The police force has gone backwards,” Camelah said, comparing it to the institution she first joined. “Male police don’t know about violence and they themselves do it to women. It’s a great struggle for all women.”
Camelah’s job came to a sudden halt for the six years when the Taliban were in power from 1996-2001. Her husband died more than 10 years ago, she says, leaving her with a badly bent little finger on her right hand, which he broke in a fight.
Afghanistan’s police force is trying to expand rapidly to meet the demands of a worsening insurgency. It is under pressure to be in shape to take over security, as a mid-2011 deadline for U.S. forces to start withdrawing from the country approaches.
But the force is beset with problems and has been harshly criticized by Western officials for being poorly trained, illiterate, corrupt and failing to administer Afghan law, often instead getting wrapped up in local tribal politics, particularly in rural Afghanistan.
The trainees at the Police Academy, which include about 15 women, take part in role plays, are lectured about the law and practical ways of combating domestic violence in the field, and about the psychological impact of abuse.
Instructors say Afghan policemen in particular are often at the center of a cultural tug-of-war between their personal and religious beliefs and their duties as law enforcers.
Addressing the conflict between tribal codes and modern law is one of the biggest challenges facing the police and their ability to prosecute domestic violence.
“The culture they live in expects certain behaviors which may be different to what the law defines as acceptable behavior,” said Anna Baldry, an Italian criminologist and psychologist who runs the domestic violence classes.
“When they ask me ‘what should we do’, (I say) of course you should comply to your beliefs but remember you wear a uniform, so you are not representative simply of society, you are a representative of the government and you are there to enforce the law,” Baldry said.
Jamshid, who like many Afghans goes by just one name, is a 21-year-old cadet from Logar province.
“In Islam, if a girl is going to get married she has to be asked but in our society in areas they don’t give her this right, which I don’t agree with ... but it’s personally difficult for me to tell a family to do this or that,” Jamshid said.
“(This class) helps me. I’m from a place that is Pashtun and over there they don’t really pay attention to the law. I’m from an educated, open-minded family and it still helps me. I want to help women in the right way.”
Editing by Sugita Katyal