Lebanon unveils first all-women police unit

Female officers-in-training showed off their newly-acquired skills during a drill in Dbayeh, north of Beirut.

A unit of Lebanon’s first female officers-in-training showed off their newly-acquired skills during a ceremony on Thursday in Dbayeh, north of Beirut.

The near 200 officers are part of a batch of more than 500 officers of the first policewomen’s unit of the country’s Internal Security Forces (ISF). The ISF itself employs 30,000 personnel who serve under Major General Ashraf Rifi.

Captain Suzanne al-Hajj, one of the trainers in the program, who previously served as one of only two females in the ISF, said the program highlighted the right of women under the Lebanese constitution to work in the police force.

The officers are trained under a joint U.S. and Internal Security Forces community police training program, which includes military, disciplinary and legal training. General Ibrahim Basbous, the head of the ISF training institute, said the women’s training is no different to men’s.

“The male training doesn’t differ from the women’s. They are doing military, disciplinary and legal training, the military training is for them to be prepared and ready to perform their duties in arresting criminals and troublemakers, defending themselves and citizens at the same time,” said General Basbous.

Todd Robinson, a U.S. official attending the ceremony said American police officers had helped during the first phase of training the policewomen but that the ISF has taken charge of the rest of the training program.

“These women demonstrated that this kind of opportunity is open to all Lebanese. I think it really goes towards cementing the partnership between the United States and Lebanon, I think it is really good to know that while we may have started the training process, the Lebanese are taking over and they are going to continue the process of training their own people and I think that is a really good message,” Deputy Robinson said.

According to a statement on the U.S. embassy in Lebanon’s website, the joint ISF and U.S. training program is a “$132 million multi-year law enforcement assistance program in Lebanon (...) designed to support reform in the Lebanese law enforcement sector by strengthening the capacity of the ISF to enforce the rule of law in Lebanon and to protect the Lebanese people.”

The embassy says the joint program has helped train more than 9,000 members of the ISF since 2008.

Female officers demonstrated various skills during Thursday’s drill from arresting suspects to shooting and abseiling.

“We faced some difficulties in the military course at first because we hadn’t been exposed to military life, but this session has boosted our spirits and has really motivated us to defend our country. This is a right of every Lebanese person; every girl has the honour of wearing this uniform and being part of this battle that every man engages in,” sergeant-in-training Nicole Jheem said.

Another cadet, Mirella Hanna, said: “We made it and we proved that women can do what men do. Many people out there underestimate girls, but we are training hard here for when we go out, so that people will have confidence that we can provide security, just as men do.”

The female officers-in-training are expected to assume full police responsibilities later this year.

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