Woman joins Latakia police force: ‘I’m helping my family get by’

When she first started working at the police station, Nawwal’s male colleagues gave her strange looks, and kept their distance. She and her female colleague often sat alone, excluded from the men.

At 29 years old, Nawwal is among the first female graduates of the police academy in Syria’s coastal Latakia province, becoming an officer last month. Today, she takes fingerprints and writes up reports, in the hopes of gaining experience for more dangerous duties outside the police station.

Nawwal never planned on becoming a police officer. Once a private Arabic tutor, she says the wartime economy pushed her to join a field dominated by men—even in Latakia, a regime-held bastion insulated from the war’s most intense fighting. But skyrocketing prices meant Nawwal’s father could no longer support his wife and three daughters alone.

“At first it was just for the monthly salary and stable work,” she tells Syria Direct’s Mohammad al-Haj Ali. “I’m helping my family get by.”

 Latakia city in May. Photo courtesy of Latakia News Network.

Only a small percentage of Syrian women held jobs before the war. In 2016, statistics show, only 12 percent of Syrian women were employed, according to the most recent World Bank count.

But those who are employed are changing attitudes, Nawwal observes.

“The people around me find it strange that I chose this job,” she says. “But now I think they are starting to get used to it.”

Q: What has the general response been from your family and friends to you working as a police officer?

There is some disapproval from society towards this line of work. It took a long time to convince my family that this was the right choice, because they kept telling me that this was something new, something that a woman can’t handle. They were also scared for me, as the job can be dangerous.

But over time, I repeatedly told them that women now have a new role in Syria. Our financial situation also persuaded them. Now that I’m working and they see that I enjoy the work, they are more convinced.

The people around me find it strange that I chose this job, because [they think] it is a man’s job. But now I think they are starting to get used to it.

Q: Are female police officers a new phenomenon in Latakia?

Yes, this is something new, but in Syrian society, women can work in all sectors—as a waitress in a restaurant, a saleswoman in a store and many other jobs. With time I think society will grow accustomed [to female police officers].

There are many professions that i used to consider male only: taxi driver, bus driver, or working in sanitation. But now everything is changing, and women are working in all fields.

Q: Do you think seven years of war have pushed women to pursue traditionally male-dominated fields?

Yes, absolutely. With all the hardships that people are going through, I’ve started seeing women taking on most professions. Now women are working in the military with the National Defense Forces, and in restaurants and cafes. Whereas before there were very few female employees, today you don’t see any restaurant without a woman working there.

This is something that can serve the country in the future because we will be able to use the potential of everyone’s [work] experience and expertise.

Q: You’re now one month into your job as a policewoman. How do your male colleagues treat you?

In the beginning, there was discrimination from some of the police officers in the station. They would look at me and my female colleague as if we were strange. Most of the time the two of us would sit alone.

But now, things have improved somewhat, and only a few among [my male colleagues] don’t want to accept us. However, this issue never really had an impact on my morale.

Q: What kinds of duties are you typically in charge of as a policewoman?

Right now I’m working in a police station in Latakia city. My duties for the time being are limited to writing reports and confessions taken from civilians who have been arrested. This includes people arrested on charges of theft and other crimes. I also collect fingerprints from the administrative employees.

In the future it’s possible that I could have other duties, like patrolling outside of the police station or arresting people. But work here is in stages, so that I can get accustomed to the job and gain experience before doing more dangerous duties.

Q: What made you decide to become a police officer right now? Before the war, did you ever imagine you would work as a policewoman?

At first it was just for the monthly salary and stable work. But when I went through my six-month training, I started to actually enjoy it. I will try to challenge myself in this job and achieve the highest rank I can.

I think that my country urgently needs everyone right now to defend against terrorism.

This job is important to me for two reasons: first, I’m helping my family get by, especially now that prices are rising across the country. My family is going through a tough financial situation right now and my father is unable to bear the burden of paying for our needs.

Second, I am helping my country and its people by pursuing criminals and thieves, who are taking advantage of the current security situation. 

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali, originally from Daraa, had completed his first year studying Broadcast Journalism at Damascus University before leaving Syria in August 2012.

Madeline Edwards

Madeline Edwards graduated from the College of Charleston with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Political Science in 2016. She was a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) recipient in Arabic in 2013. Her studies have brought her to Jordan, Palestine and Turkey.