Afghan policewomen suffer sexual abuse at work: HRW

KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's policewomen suffer sexual assault by male colleagues, often inside police stations, a rights group said on Thursday, calling for women-only toilets and changing facilities to curb such abuse.

Addressing the concerns of policewomen is necessary to address the "rampant violence" against women in the wider society, said Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"Harassment and abuse is an everyday experience for many Afghan women," said HRW Asia director Brad Adams.

"Without the consistent presence of female police officers across the country, legal protections for women will remain an unfulfilled promise."

In a statement the group cited "numerous" media reports of the rape of female officers by male colleagues, and said the lack of separate secure toilets or places to change clothes makes them particularly vulnerable.

Many of the country's 1,500 female police cannot travel to work in uniform because of threats posed by Taleban insurgents or by others in the conservative Islamic nation opposed to the concept of women police.

"As the number of women in the police force has risen, so have the allegations by female officers of having been raped, assaulted or sexually harassed by male colleagues," HRW said.

And when such assaults happen, they often occur in isolated places such as unsafe toilets and changing areas.

The rights group said policewomen have no access to "suitable and safe" separate restrooms and orders by top officials to provide them had been ignored.

"The government of Afghanistan should take immediate action to ensure that the country's female police officers have access to separate, safe and lockable restroom facilities in police stations," it said.

Women make up just one per cent of the war-torn country's 160,000-strong Western-funded police force. The number is set to increase about five-fold under government plans.

Women in male-dominated Afghanistan still suffer from domestic violence and other abuse 12 years after the fall of the Taleban, which banned them from attending school or any form of public activity during their 1996-2001 rule.

The Taleban were toppled by a US-led invasion but are waging an insurgency aimed at regaining power.

President Hamid Karzai's Western-backed government has passed a law, on "elimination of violence against women", to ensure greater protection.

But "the law has not been adequately enforced, in part because of the lack of female police officers to assist female crime victims, including other police officers", HRW said.

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