Pakistan tribal police have for the first time in the country’s history recruited three Christian women to work alongside their Muslim male colleagues.
The three were among a group of 15 female Christian applicants for the job, despite the fact that the posts were open to all religions. Officials said no Muslim women applied due to local traditions in the conservative tribal society.
“Their basic job is to carry out body searches of women passing through the Torkham border crossing,” Khalid Khan, a senior official in Pakistan’s Khyber tribal district told AFP.
Khyber is one of Pakistan’s seven tribal districts situated next to Peshawar and bordering Afghanistan, and thousands of Afghans families pass through the Torkham border crossing between the two countries daily.
“But they will also help us in house to house raids,” Khan said.
Male police carrying out female body searches is a sensitive issue in Pakistan.
Security agencies elsewhere in the country have recruited women police, but Khan said the tribal districts were facing a shortage of female applicants.
“We consider it as a first drop of rain and we are hopeful that more women, both Muslims and Christians will apply,” another official in Khyber tribal district told AFP, requesting anonymity.
A tribal police force with more than 4,500 personnel assists other security agencies to maintain law and order in Pakistan’s seven tribal districts.
The tribal force are mainly responsible for controlling local crime and drug smuggling while the military and paramilitary are responsible for border control and security.
The new recruits will do three months of basic training before being deployed at Torkham.
“I do not want to be at home like other women, I want to serve my country and help my family,” twenty-one-year-old Riffat Abid, one of the successful applicants, told AFP in Landi Kotal border town.
Landi Kotal is home to a limited number of Christian families. The men mostly work as sweepers while men and women with basic education also work as nurses at local hospitals.
Another successful applicant Mehak Ghaffar, 20, said her husband was getting up to 7,000 rupees ($66) which was insufficient to feed 12 members of the family.
“This was the happiest day of my life, our family has been facing extreme poverty for generations and I want to get rid of that,” Ghaffar told AFP at her small home.
“At least my kids will not work as sweepers, we, the three women, will be the initial drops of rain for our families,” Ghaffar added.
The other fortunate candidate Naila Jabbar, 22, said she feels like a man when she leaves her home.
“I become a man when I leave my home, I am happy that I will support my family,” Jabbar said.
Christians make up an estimated 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s 200 million people and have long faced discrimination in the Muslim-majority country.