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In the culturally conservative country, women serving in the security forces say they face systemic sexual coercion and even rape by male colleagues. The image of Afghan women wearing police and army uniforms is meant to inspire pride and hope for a future where the rights of women will be protected in Afghanistan.
So why would female police officers in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif be ashamed to admit they wear the badge? The woman, who asked not to give her name, says she tells most of her family that she works with a foreign aid organization.
That's because the rumors about sexual abuse in Mazar-e-Sharif's police force are so widespread that many of these women are ashamed to say they're cops.
Afghan female police officers march at the Police Training Center on the outskirts of Herat province in western Afghanistan on Dec. Protection of women's rights in Afghanistan remains a focal point for the West — and American officials regularly tout the fact that the Afghan security forces now include hundreds of women. In northern Afghanistan alone, about women are serving in the police force. But in a culture that is not fully comfortable with women working outside the home, these women face significant risks.
An NPR investigation in the city discovered disturbing allegations of systematic sexual coercion and even rape of female police officers by their male colleagues. The women at the recent training session at a huge base outside Mazar-e-Sharif hardly looked like victims as they assembled and loaded assault rifles. But none dared to give their names as they alluded to what is an open secret in the city. Most of the female police have many children, and most are poor. The threat of job loss is a powerful one.