KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – November 16, 2013, marked a new day for the southern region of Afghanistan.
Twenty-nine female recruits stepped into a classroom with padded “governors chairs” and vinyl covered tables to start day one of an eight-week Afghan National Police Basic Patrolman’s course, at the Joint Regional Afghan National Police Center, Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Twenty-one recruits remain dedicated to their training, making the trip to class six days a week to train for seven hours a day. Upon graduation, they will become members of the ANP alongside their male counterparts.
“There have been other training courses like this before up north toward Kabul, but this is the first all-female ANP course to take place in the south,” 1st Lt. Amanda Napolitani, 4th Infantry Division Regional Command (South) female engagement team chief, said.
Two male ANP officers from Regional Training Center – Kandahar serve as primary instructors with help from two U.S. contractors, who are police advisors assigned to Women’s Police Corps, and International Security Assistance Force female engagement teams.
First Lt. Abdullah Paktiawallt, ANP BPC instructor, explained that, in Kandahar, the situation is different than in the north.
“It is hard for the females to become a part of the ANP because it is considered a shame in Afghan society,” Paktiawallt said. “They call you names and it brings shame to your family.”
He said it is very dangerous for a woman to leave home by herself, but these women are strong, brave and not scared of anything.
“My favorite thing to teach is human rights and the Afghanistan Constitution. This is very important to live by,” Paktiawallt said.
He also went on to talk about the rights women are striving for in Afghanistan.
“A female has a right to education, but does she get it? No, because it’s looked down upon, so it is good for them to know their rights.” he added.
People who work for the Afghan government often face complex obstacles that involve their families’ well being.
“Kandahar is the hot spot for Taliban. Sometimes, these females cry in class because they have lost their husbands and families that had worked in the government to the Taliban,” 1st Lt. Nasrat-ullah Andarabi, ANP BPC instructor, said. “But they understand that as security in Kandahar improves slowly, so will their issues.”
One female said she has started to carry a weapon with her outside of the classroom because she was being followed, but she continues to come to class every day.
“I am not afraid of the Taliban because no matter where I am, I will die one day,” Shkofa, an ANP recruit, said.
Kandahar is often referred to as the birthplace of the Taliban, making it hard for women to find employment and provide for their family.
“If we were working in the city, there might be more danger, but we are working at the airport and it is OK,” Shkofa said.
The women come from a variety of backgrounds and ages – the youngest is 20 and the oldest is 44.
“I know one of the women whose husband was in the police force, has been widowed for 15 years after he was killed,” said Pfc. Sarah Wilton, 2nd Cavalry Regiment FET member.
“Before she joined, she had a job as a seamstress teaching classes, and then she worked in a bakery, and now she is here,” Wilton said.
Many women are married and are co-providers for their families. A couple of the women are pregnant and continue to take part in all of the training.
“I am married with six children. My husband works with ISAF. He organizes the food at the DFAC,” Shkofa said.
For some, being a part of the ANP is the only way they can provide for themselves and their families.
“I have six kids but my husband is not working. This job helps. It does not pay a lot, it does not pay a little, but we can survive off it,” Rahalla, an ANP recruit, said.
Napolitani explained that having families understand what the women are doing here is a good thing.
“Knowing that so many of the females have families is a good sign that people at home support them,” Napolitani said.
Some of the females have been a part of the ANP force for as many as eight years, but are just now getting the opportunity to take the basic patrolman’s course.
“We never thought we would have a group of women to teach in Kandahar,” Napolitani said, “Now there is supposed to be another course that starts Feb. 1.”
Paktiawallt said as more people become educated about the importance of female police, time will pass and the stigma will eventually go away.
“Afghanistan needs female police, our community needs us,” Rahalla said.
Napolitani explained that the value of having female police is huge.
“There is now a way for women to protect their reputation in households and communities and still get the services they need,” Napolitani said.
Female police are used to interact with other women, primarily regarding domestic violence cases and search points.
“This is a huge step in the right direction. Looking at what we’ve learned in the last 12 years with lack of females in law enforcement, (the ANP) have been restricted in their abilities,” Sgt. 1st Class Sherise Stephens, Kandahar Field Detention Site non-commissioned officer in-charge, 551st Military Police Company, said.
The training has covered a variety of topics, including drill and ceremony, Afghan Constitution values and ethics, penal codes in accordance to Afghan law, basic trauma first aid, use of force, empty hand techniques, search procedures and weapons qualification.
“Every day the women receive one hour of literacy instruction, which is very beneficial to them because some of them have never been taught how to read or write,” Napolitani said.
Some of the women practice their literacy skills with their children who go to school, Napolitani added.
Andarabi explained that if the women came to the course with a better education, then maybe they would be able to comprehend the lessons a little better and a little faster.
“Because the females cannot read and write that well, their literacy levels are low compared to the average (Afghan) person,” Andarabi said.
“The practical exercises are very important so the females get to participate. I feel like they learn better hands on. If the females had a better education, what we teach might sink in a little better.”
Despite the females’ current intellect, Napolitani added that the females show up every day excited to learn.
Looking at where the women were on day one to now, the instructors have seen major improvement.
“We’ve seen a great difference compared to when we started. There has been great progress when it comes to standing, saluting, exercise drills and classroom work as well,” Andarabi said.
In the coming weeks, the recruits will look forward to education on human rights, gender issues, check-point exercises, driving exercises, land mine awareness, drug awareness, officer safety and survival, and improvised explosive devise and vehicle born IED identification.
“The Afghan commanders come out from time to time to check in on the training and they tell me ‘Make sure our women pay attention. We want them to be able to build their confidence to be able to do their job,’” Napolitani said.
Confidence is often seen as the biggest obstacle for the recruits.
“I think that is what is going to be their biggest challenge - being able to keep that confidence they have found when we are not around,” Staff Sgt. Renata Gaddis, 2nd Cavalry Regiment squadron FET NCOIC, said.
Gaddis is one of two FET members observing and participating in all eight weeks of the training.
“Maintaining the same level of motivation around the males after training ends will be challenging, but they have what it takes,” Gaddis said.
Afghan male soldiers continue to support and reassure the females that they are a part of the team, Gaddis added.
“These females will be able to teach future generations to not be narrow minded. They will be open to different ideas and they will know equality and that they are, in fact, equal and no one is less than the other,” Paktiawallt said.
Andarabi explained that, for him, the women are already equal in his eyes.
“We have come to this program and we look at the females, like the males, as brothers and sisters. I look up to the females for taking such a high risk,” Andarabi said.
“My boss trusted me to come out here and teach and it makes me very proud,” Andarabi added. “This whole thing wouldn’t be possible though without everyone’s help; we all have to be a part of it.”
These females have the ability to accomplish anything; it just depends on how hard they want to work to better themselves, Andarabi said.
It is with that hard work that Paktiawallt explained that the females might be given a great opportunity to further their training and better their career.
“We have heard rumors that as a gift to the females for being the first all female class in Kandahar, the higher-ups are going to send them all over to NCO school,” Paktiawallt said.
That progress makes Paktiawallt even happier.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that females would join the ANP and that I would be the one instructing them. I never even thought about it,” Paktiawallt said. “This is a very big honor, and it brings me much pride to be a part of it.”