As crowds increase on Cairo’s underground with the return to school and closure of a central station connecting two main metro lines, a female police force has appeared on busy trains.
Colonel Roqayah El-Seify, 57, saluted high-ranking officials as she walked into the police office at Shohada metro station in downtown Cairo, one of the city’s busiest stations.
She wore a white police suit, pink-coloured make-up and a black headscarf under her police cap.
“We work with policemen in order to secure and protect the metro - trains and stations,” she told Ahram Online.
The female force on the metro includes officers and lower-ranking police personnel. El-Seify says at least ten women are part of this force. They come from a larger women's division within the Interior Ministry, recruited mostly from administrative positions.
Their task in the metro is primarily focused on the two carriages allocated for women on each train.
“We secure these carriages through moving patrols inside them, raising awareness of pickpockets, beggars and harassers,” she said.
Passengers in the female-only carriages often complain about men who ride in them, especially during late hours, as sexual harassment has become a daily issue for most women in Cairo.
More than 99 percent of hundreds of women surveyed in seven of the country's 27 governorates reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment, ranging from minor harassment to rape, according to a report issued by the UN, Egypt's Demographic Centre and the National Planning Institute in April.
Ahmed Asser, 23, a student at the Faculty of Engineering, said he saw a policewoman at Mazallat metro station in Shoubra district.
“She was ordering a man to leave the women's carriages, assisted by two [low-ranking] policemen. She fined him on the spot,” Asser said.
As El-Seify left the police office at Shohada station, she asked for a policeman to accompany her on another patrol.
On entering the carriage she approached small groups of women, asking if they were facing any problems. Many complained of how crowded the trains have become since the closure of Sadat station in Tahrir Square, downtown Cairo.
The station has been shut since security forces dispersed two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo on 14 August. Now only Shohada station connects two main metro lines, with no date announced for the re-opening of Sadat.
One woman asked El-Seify to come closer so she could whisper something a man had told her earlier that morning when she asked him to leave the women’s carriage.
El-Seify urged female passengers to reduce their interaction with male violators, asking them instead to complain to the nearest police officer. She also encouraged them to register complaints regarding any other issues on the metro as they had an “important role to help eliminate such problems.”
Iman Emad, 28, said she supports the idea of having policewomen on the metro.
“It’s a good thing, proven by the interactions of women with [El-Seify] her,” Emad said, “especially over issues they might be too embarrassed to address with policemen [like harassment].”
She added that there may be suspects police would have to search on the metro, and “a policewoman is needed for female suspects.”
However, policewomen are still a rarity on Cairo’s metro lines. Many women in the carriage that El-Seify rode said they had never seen female police officers before.
And not all women impressed at the sight of female officers on the metro.
“This is only a show by the Interior Ministry. They will disappear in no time,” Om Mido, a 29-year-old passenger said, adding that she has been an opponent of the Interior Ministry since the times of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, against whom she protested in January 2011.
In addition, she said women “should not assume such roles because they cannot exert control like men.” She was interrupted by fellow passengers, who said El-Seify was “the leader” and that “it is normal, even for a man, to have other policemen with him.”
When El-Seify got off the carriage two stations later, she stood on the platform directing the crowds clustered at the doors or answering women’s requests for directions.
El-Seify is a law graduate and grandmother. She worked previously in the security unit at Ain Shams University girls' dormitory. She has two daughters, both of whom are working on obtaining their master's degrees.
“What I love the most about my job is interacting with people,” she said. “I feel all the women here are my family.”