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Tajik policewomen patrol Dushanbe on bicycles
Tajik authorities have formed an all-female police unit to help combat domestic violence, human trafficking and other issues that primarily affect women.
By Nadin Bahrom
DUSHANBE – Since the beginning of 2014, Tajiks might have noticed policewomen patrolling Dushanbe on bicycles.
The policewomen patrol heavily visited public places, generally from 8am to noon, where they reach out to prevent problems that affect Tajik women.
The 10 Tajik policewomen – a number that officials hope to expand, if the project is successful – took Interior Ministry (MVD) courses on "Raising the role of women in law enforcement agencies," with the support of international donors. In the courses, they learned how to solve or prevent such things as domestic violence, suicide among women, violence among youth, and human trafficking, and also how to work with children, according to the MVD.
The women patrol on bicycles for several reasons. It is cost-effective, because bikes don't need fuel; it is healthy; and, when traffic is heavy, it enables them to reach bike around any tie-ups, thus reaching the scene quicker, Sabzina Salomatova, chief of the Dushanbe police department secretariat, said.
"During their training, the women were taught how to ride a bicycle, defend themselves with the aid of a bicycle and prevent crime in public places," she added.
Women's involvement seen as key
The policewomen bike to parks, markets and schools, where they interact with women and children and explain to them the reason for their patrols. One goal is to build a rapport so that if the citizens – usually women or children – see a problem brewing, they can get help before the situation escalates.
They wear a special uniform bearing the inscription "Policewomen on Bikes," and they speak Russian as well as Tajik to better serve the citizens.
"Their appearance attracts people," Salomatova said. "Having the police show up prevents crime."
Bringing women into crime prevention raises the status of women in society and should solve problems traditionally associated with fear of policemen, Kudratullo Gulomov, deputy Dushanbe police chief, said.
"Whoever a woman may be, her words show care and love," Gulomov said, adding that the softer approach of policewomen could prevent delinquency. "At the sight of men, children at once start to panic, and they try to avoid them. But a woman ... does not arouse aggression in the child."
Similary, women with problems are often more open with other women, Gulomov said, explaining that, in Asiatic cultures, women are more willing to unburden themselves of potentially suicide-causing secrets like domestic violence to other women.
One patrolwoman's routine
Every day, MVD inspector Gulbakhor Boboyeva bicycles through public places to engage women and to explain their rights.
"The women listen quietly, and then one will ... ask for my phone number," she said. "Others will say, I have a neighbour with these problems, or I have a friend ... and they take our phone number. They're concealing that they're talking about their own problems, but all the same, they're asking for help."
Boboyeva recalled a woman who said her husband had gone to Russia to work. Only three months later, he sent her a text message saying he was divorcing her.
Her mother-in-law wanted her out of the house, saying, "If my son doesn't want you, what are you doing in my house?'"
Boboyeva and her partner helped the woman find a psychologist and a lawyer so a remedy could be found.
Debate on female patrols
Although the strategy offers a potentially good way to solve some problems for women, analysts have mixed opinions about whether women should be patrolling the Dushanbe streets.
Worldwide, the public expects police to have a commanding presence, Dushanbe politics and security commentator Iskandar Firuz said. Tajik criminals might be less respectful of a policewoman, he added.
Others discounted his concern, saying that the unit's objective is not to handle violent crime, though if they see something amiss they can call for back-up.
And Oinikhol Bobonazarova, a human rights activist and chairwoman of the NGO Perspektiva (Prospects), pointing out that countries like Norway and Germany have women serving as defence ministers or in other positions of power.
"Sometimes certain women can cope with a task better than men can," Bobonazarova said.