Those women could stop traffic

Female cops in Pakistan are redefining what it means to work the streets.

By Catherine Price
May 6, 2008 10:34PM (UTC)
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News flash from Pakistan: For the first time, female traffic cops are being allowed to take to the streets outside of Islamabad -- but not everyone's thrilled about it.

According to the Chicago Tribune, while Pakistan is not opposed to women holding powerful jobs -- it had a female prime minister, after all -- there's still a common perception that the only types of women who work on the streets are beggars and whores. So the new female traffic cops? Let's just say that they're having some problems.


Female traffic cops have been working in Islamabad for the past three years, but this is the first time that they've been allowed outside the capital. (President Pervez Musharraf has been encouraging training for female cops, in addition to pushing for various other pro-women policies.) To see what it's like to, er, work the streets, the Tribune's correspondent tags along with Mehnaz Akhter, a female cop working a busy intersection. As she directs the flow of cars, she's forced to ignore "the looks, leers and laughs" -- not to mention requests for directions from men who aren't really lost. The harassment is bad enough that Akhter's male colleague, Zaigham Abbas, says that he has slapped four motorists in the past few months for harassing her.

Granted, as most women know, getting harassed on the street is not an experience that's limited to Pakistan -- but it's bad enough that "eve teasing" (a euphemism for harassment used throughout South Asia) is a punishable offense. Unfortunately, few people are actually arrested for eve teasing, and according to the Tribune, many women feel too intimidated to exercise outside or visit local parks -- so it's perhaps not surprising that being a female traffic cop directing (mostly male) drivers would prompt a certain amount of unwanted attention.

But it's still upsetting, just as it's upsetting to see that there are people who think that women should be banned from jobs like being traffic cops for their own protection. (I mean, why punish the harassers when you could just ban the women?) Take this anecdote from the Tribune as an example:


"'They shouldn't be here because hundreds of bad people come here,'" said Muhammad Sabeeh, 16, an 8th grader in Rawalpindi who wore a black baseball cap proclaiming 'bad boy' and who walked through Akhter's traffic intersection every day. "'There are some men who can do anything and say anything.'"

Exactly. And that's the problem.

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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