The border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan stretches for over 1,300 kilometers across harsh, mountainous terrain, cutting through some of the most inaccessible and remote places on earth.
The geography alone makes this one of the world’s most difficult borders to manage. But the job facing the Tajik and Afghan border agencies has become even tougher with growing insecurity in northern Afghanistan since 2014.
Better coordination between Tajik and Afghan border guards has become essential as both sides try to encourage legal cross-border business, while combating the often deadly threat posed by narcotics and human traffickers.
Against this backdrop, the UN Migration Agency, IOM, facilitated over 50 joint training courses for Tajik and Afghan border guards in Tajikistan between 2009 and 2014. However, for cultural and operational reasons, the participants were all men.
But in 2014 this changed when, with the financial support of the United States Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Agencies (INL), IOM Tajikistan delivered its first joint training course for 15 Tajik and Afghan women at Dushanbe’s Training Center for Border Guards.
The 10-day program was the first of its kind and became the basis for building trust and improving communication between the Tajik and Afghan border agencies. Both sides and IOM agreed that Afghan women attending the first course could be chaperoned by male family members – a normal practice in Afghan culture. After being assured that the women will receive training in the military unit territory where only female officers have access and will be accompanied at all time, their chaperons realized that it was unnecessary to be present.
Nadia, an officer of the Afghan Border Police, is one of the 50 Afghan women who, so far, have received a training along with 51 Tajik women. She joined the Border Police Force after her husband was killed.
“War is a misfortune and it took away my husband. War took away the only breadwinner of our family,” Nadia says. That’s when Nadia started to search for work so she could provide for her two children.
“I needed a job and searched for days. One day, I went to my neighbors’ house to get some bread for my children and their TV was on. That’s when I saw an announcement for job openings with the Border Police,” recalls Nadia.
Nadia was hired. She had no professional experience but she quickly learned the ropes and IOM’s training courses were an opportunity to take her career a step further.
“These courses allowed me to acquire new knowledge in humanitarian border management and enabled me to gain self-confidence. I was eventually promoted to a higher rank,” says Nadia.
The UN Migration Agency, IOM, has helped to develop a specialized training curriculum for female border guards in Tajik and Dari languages. Additionally, it has supported efforts by the Tajik Border Force to improve their institutional gender policies, including recruitment and retention of female staff, as well as promoting equality in the workplace.
“Female border guards are trained to develop the same capacities as their male counterparts in attentiveness, observation, and responsibility to perform border control tasks at a professional level,” says Captain Donaeva Sayora, head-of-shift at the Khujand border checkpoint. “These joint trainings with Tajiks and Afghans help considerably in improving their skills and allow us to share our learned knowledge with them.”
“Statistical data of Border Forces of Tajikistan have shown that female border guards are often better than men when it comes to detecting human trafficking cases or deescalating conflict situations at borders,” says IOM Tajikistan Chief of Mission Dragan Aleksoski. According to a joint assessment conducted by IOM and the Tajik Border Forces, female border guards are reported to have sharper skills to detect forged documents, errors in identity documents of those who are under investigation, and to identify trafficked persons.
“The training also helps them to share mutual concerns and exchange experiences of their work combating narcotics, human trafficking and instability in border areas,” says Aleksoski.“In recent years the number of female employees in the Tajik Border Force has almost doubled, demonstrating their value in creating a stable and well-managed border,” he adds.
As part of its wider efforts to promote women’s participation in border management in the region, IOM will continue to provide training to Afghan and Tajik female border guards through 2017 and 2018. It will also continue to train male border guards from both countries.