Jérôme Mesnager Paris
It is almost cool on the parade ground of the Royal Oman Police Academy in Nizwa at 6am as a group of women police cadets march out to join their male colleagues for drill practice. Dressed in long blue skirts, white shirts, high heel shoes and sporting jaunty hats with a black and white chequered band, the women are put through their paces with the men. Established in 1980, the Police Academy aims to graduate one star lieutenants on completion of a two year course which puts a heavy emphasis on sport and physical fitness. This year out of a total of 55 new students, 12 are women. And don’t be fooled by appearances -- despite their snazzy uniforms, earrings, nail polish and glamorously kohled eyes, these women have a grueling training period and some tough examinations to get through before emerging as fully fledged law enforcement officers.
Like their male counterparts the women cadets rise before 4.30am for an hour of sport. Between 5.30 am and 6 o’clock they take their first break for rest and prayer; between 6am and 7am they are hard at work on the parade ground before attending practise at the shooting range where they learn to handle pistols and G3 rifles with considerable expertise. Gun practise is followed by various lectures, taking them up to lunch at 12.30 and a rest period until 3pm. During the afternoon between 3 and 6pm it is back to physical pursuits such as volley ball and basket ball.
A grueling training period
These activities are followed by another short break, the evening prayer and dinner at 7pm. Even now -- after 15 hours -- the day is not over for the recruits. After dinner they are expected to study until 8.30pm when all cadets appear on the parade ground for the last review. Only when the review is over -- generally around 9pm -- are they allowed to return to their rooms to read or chat a little before lights out at 10pm. Only six and a half hours later another new day will be beginning for the cadets.
The recruits live in what many students would consider to be sumptuous surroundings. Three or four women share a two bedroomed flat, with sitting room -- complete with television -- and a kitchen where they can make a hot drink. In the privacy of their flat the girls are allowed freedom to read, watch television and listen to music.
Staff Sergeant Raya is the officer in charge of women’s training at the Nizwa aacademy. She has been a policewoman for 14 years and is still only 29 years old. For Raya part of the attraction of police work is the variety it offers. “I like the job because we are constantly moving around, not chained to a desk. I was very young when I joined and lucky that my father -- a merchant -- agreed to my choice of career”. During the 14 years since she joined the force, Raya has married and had four children who are now aged between three and 12 years old. Every day she leaves the academy at 2pm to return to her temporary home in Nizwa to take care of them. However, when the nine months a year she spends training cadets is over, the family returns to their “real” home in Muscat where Raya works in the computer department at Police headquarters.
Sharifa, a 17-year-old recruit from Rastaq says she joined the academy because she enjoys sport, especially running and swimming but, on completion of her training period, she hopes to securre an office job with the police force. Twenty-year-old Saqina, the daugter of an oil company employee, in common with all the other trainees said she felt that as a member of the police force she was helping Oman. However, she agrees, enjoying sport and wearing the uniform are also plus points for her. Saqina, like 17-year-old Sheikha -- who enjoys most aspects of her work at the academy “except the company of the boys” -- hopes to get a job at the airport when her training period is over.
Altough the dormitories of the male and female recruits are situated far apart, in all other respects the women follow their tough training schedule side by side with the men -- in the cafeteria, the classroom and on the parade ground. This policy of equality has clearly paid off for, as a recenbt visitor to the country observed, “These are no token police women, they are out on the streets doing their bit. They are full of self-confidence and they are treated with respect by the community -- men and women”. This in itself is no small achievement in Oman, one of the most traditionalist societies in the ArabianPeninsula, where only a a few short years ago women were regarded only in the domestic roles of mothers, wives and homemakers and having a career of any kind was unheard of.
(The Middle East magazine, February 1990)
Camel race, Dubai
Droits de Reproduction strictement réservés © Chris Kutschera 2002