BAGHDAD — As in many places, women who work in law enforcement in Iraq have yet to achieve equality with their male counterparts, but they're making progress.
The Rescue Directorate of the Ministry of Interior deployed Nov. 17 a group of policewomen to patrol the streets of Baghdad and monitor the gates of girls’ schools, colleges, institutes and markets in a bid to combat harassment in public places. That's just one aspect of their jobs.
First Lt. Sulaf Kazem Jaber, who works in the Adhamiya Traffic Section, performs her daily job on the street wearing her official uniform. She shared with Al-Monitor how the community’s perception of her work as a policewoman has changed since she began working for the traffic police in 2008.
“During the first year of my work, my colleagues and I faced many difficulties and were looked down upon. Today, people have become accustomed to our presence on the street and have started treating us with greater respect," she said.
"Our [male] colleagues are very considerate of our situation. They exempt us from night guarding missions to help us spend as much time as possible with our children,” she added.
The Rescue and Traffic Directorates and the Community and Domestic Violence Police work under the umbrella of the Ministry of Interior and include a significant number of women, most of whom are required to patrol the streets.
The total number of female civil servants, policewomen and officers working at the Ministry of Interior has reached 12,070, according to ministry sources, who didn't want their names revealed because they're not authorized to make media statements.
The Police Academy confirmed the graduation of 158 female police officers between 2011 and 2017 and said that 25 more are to graduate in next July. Of note, women have only been allowed to take part in four of the academy’s 66 sessions held to date.
However, 170 female officers have graduated from the Interior Ministry's Higher Institute for Security and Administrative Development with higher diplomas in security sciences since 2011, and 50 women, including 25 who hold doctorates or master's degrees, are now completing their studies there. These graduates become specialists in areas such as investigation and criminology.
Capt. Shaimaa Ali Ibrahim, head of the Women's Division at the Community Police Directorate, was among the first to graduate from the institute in 2011 and is set to be promoted to a higher rank next year.
Ibrahim told Al-Monitor that the attitudes of some of her males colleagues are among her greatest challenges, as many men refuse to salute her even though she outranks them. Some males go so far as to defame their female colleagues because the men can't tolerate the idea of having higher-ranking women in the same field.
“None of the less-senior male colleagues have ever called me 'sir,'” she added.
Her colleagues aren't the only holdouts. Ibrahim said many civilians, including women, don't accept her work as a policewoman.
“A lady once came to our directorate to complain about her husband and when I started talking to her, she wouldn't accept that I would be writing up the report and insisted that a male policeman write it instead,” Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim's director had to comply and drafted the complaint himself.
“The woman thought that me drafting the report would somehow affect her case. She didn't know that the decision was solely in the hands of the judge, not the person drafting the report,” she said.
Depending on the case she is dealing with, Ibrahim works with other security agencies of the Interior Ministry, such as the Rescue Directorate, Crime Directorate and Tribal Section of the Community Police. There are cases that require her to visit families and solve domestic problems between siblings or relatives. There are also policewomen who work with nursing homes to get them to look after elderly people with no shelter.
In addition to patrols and problem solving, Ibrahim and her Community Police colleagues conduct awareness seminars for girls in schools to warn them of the risks of electronic harassment, threats and cyberextortion and make sure they know the harassment law provisions.
The challenges faced by policewomen who patrol the streets vary according to the directorates they work in.
Capt. Nasreen Abdul Aima, who works at the Baghdad Police Command and previously served as an investigating officer at the Family Protection Directorate, told Al-Monitor, “When I worked as an investigating officer, I used to write reports for battered women who showed up to complain about their husbands. Once husbands were brought in and [they] found out that the report was drafted by a woman and that the investigating officer was also a woman, they took it personally. But today things are starting to change.”
Abdul Aima is currently in charge of hundreds of women patrolling the streets. She believes there are a lot of cases where policewomen have proved more courageous than their male colleagues. She reached this conclusion when she worked as an investigating officer and had to visit crime scenes.
“Where there are emergency cases or religious occasions, we are assigned the same tasks as our male colleagues and often are away from our houses for days to guard holy shrines,” she said.
Abdul Aima is saluted by her colleagues, unlike many other policewomen. “They treat me with respect and say that I deserve the salute, which I never asked for. Commitment and professionalism oblige others to respect me,” she said.