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  • Writer's pictureKim Curtis

Iraqi policewomen break taboos

Updated: Feb 15, 2019

RAMADI, Iraq – The women received their first paychecks a few weeks ago – about $500 for a month’s work as police officers. They paid rent, bought food, wiped out debts. But the seemingly simple transaction has left at least one woman in fear for her life, another threatened with divorce.

The strict tribal and religious culture of Iraq, particularly in its western Anbar province, strongly discourages women from working outside the home and brings shame on men who allow it.

“Right now, our province is safe and peaceful. But anything could shake that up and we could be in danger,” says Genan, a 37-year-old mother of three who’s also seven months pregnant.

She and four other women who graduated in early October from five days of police academy training agreed to speak to The Associated Press on the condition that only their first names be used for fear of reprisals. Among the 8,000 men recruited as police officers in the Anbar province, 14 women signed up. They are working in a west Ramadi police station.

When they first learned recruits were being sought, Genan, Kadmia, 35, and Fatma, 27, said they jumped at the chance.

“In Iraq, a woman’s job is to stay home and be a housewife. Men and women are not equal,” said Genan. They felt emboldened by seeing women among the U.S. troops patrolling and fighting in Ramadi.

The women had witnessed female insurgents blow themselves up with suicide vests. Some of those women were getting through security checkpoints because cultural and religious mores prohibit them from being searched by men. The new female recruits said they thought they could help to prevent such attacks.

Right now, their role at their Ramadi station is limited to searching female visitors of jail inmates.

Kadmia, who has two sons and three daughters, two of whom also joined the force, made uniforms for the women. She altered the men’s long-sleeved light-blue shirts – making them fuller and longer – with an Iraqi police patch on the right sleeve. Skirts are ankle-length, slim, black or dark blue. They provided their own long black or light-blue headscarves.

The women’s pay is equal to men’s, starting at about 785,000 dinars a month. In Ramadi, rent averages about 100,000 dinars or about $80 a month; feeding a family costs about 250,000 dinars or about $200 a month.

“I love what I’m doing now,” Fatma said. “Just like the men are protecting their country, I want to protect my country.”

Even so, her family disapproves. She said only her mother and one sister have anything to do with her. Her husband of seven years has threatened divorce.

“`Either quit the job or divorce me,’ he said. I will pick the job,” she said.


By Kim Curtis - THE ASSOCIATED PRESS PUBLISHED: October 28, 2007 at 12:00 am

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