Gunman Kills Senior Afghan Policewoman as Taliban Vows to Kill More

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: The death of an Afghan policewoman today caught our attention. Sub-inspector Negara was fatally shot yesterday by gunmen outside her home. She was apparently targeted because of her gender. Negara was the most senior policewoman in Helmand province. Like many Afghans, she had only one name. She was a mother in her late 30s, and here's her only son, Hamid Jan, describing the last time he saw her alive.

Hamid Jan: [speaking Pashto]

Translator: I was going to work on my motorbike, so I asked Mom to come with me, but she refused, telling me that a car was coming to pick her up. I was on the road when I received a call informing me that my mother had been shot.

Werman: Negara was the second policewoman to be killed in Helmand province since July. At her funeral today, another female police officer who didn't want to be named said she and her colleagues are not safe.

Policewoman: [speaking Pashto]

Translator: We have received warnings from the Taliban that they will kill each of us within three months. They said that they will kill every single policewoman in Helmand within three months.

Werman: Candace Rondeaux is currently working on a book on the conflict in Afghanistan based on her five years experience living and working there as an analyst with the International Crisis Group. Candace, this is turning into a recurring nightmare for Afghan female police. Is the Afghan government doing enough to protect them?

Candace Rondeaux: Well, that's clear, it's not. And the question is really can the Afghan government do enough? It does have a lot on its plate and I think the coalition, you know, ICC staff in particular, has tried to push its own line in terms of expanding resources for female police officers, for female soldiers and for politicians in general, but it really also has been very soft on this message. And I think that ultimately what it comes down to is a failure of both the Afghan government and the international community in terms of prioritizing security and gender mainstreaming in Afghanistan.

Werman: Some Afghan policewomen have even been threatened by members of their own family. Can you explain why that's happening?

Rondeaux: Well, I think, you know, the idea of women joining the workforce in any context, be it Afghan or you know, American. I mean historically it has shown to be a very controversial question and it raises questions about the political order, the family structure. It raises questions especially about the economic order. And in Afghanistan when you've had this big, I mean this gaping gender divide between who works and who doesn't work, obviously the idea of a woman going into the workforce is a big deal, but of course, women joining the police force also means that they're gonna be alongside men. And these are some of the cultural norms that you're dealing with in a very particular situation in Afghanistan where there's a lot of ideas about sort of the honorable woman being besmirched by simply having contact with men…strange men who are not members of the family. So it's a matter of personal family honor, unfortunately, and this is not really a trend that's really reversed.

Werman: So given all the risks, why do women keep volunteering for duty with the security forces in Afghanistan? Maybe you've met one or two who you can tell us what they told you?

Rondeaux: Yeah, I've met a few female police officers and obviously they come to it for different reasons. Some come to it because they have no choice. There are plenty of women out there who have been widowed, who have been abandoned, who are no longer considered honorable or economically viable in terms of the family structure, simply because of choices that they've made, very personal choices that they made about who they will associate with. So for younger women who are less susceptible to some of the conservatism that has been present in Afghanistan, you know, joining the police force is a very attractive option. It's a way to make money and to become independent women, but of course, many women also do express a real genuine sense of patriotism, like this is something that they need to do in order to help Afghanistan advance in the world order.

Werman: Candace Rondeaux lived and worked in Kabul for five years as an analyst with the International Crisis Group. Candace, thanks for your thoughts on this.

Rondeaux: Thank you.