TASHKENT -- Women are becoming a growing part of Uzbekistani law enforcement.
Although the government treats the size and gender composition of its police force as secrets, the visual evidence has grown with passing years.
"In the 1990s, I didn't see a single policewoman on the streets," Tashkent resident Akhmad Malikov told Central Asia Online. "Today you run into them at theatre entrances, stadiums and parks."
"I haven't seen a policewoman yet walking a beat," Malikov said. "But they could start in tourist areas."
Currently, female applicants are waiting, as well as men, to take the June entrance exam for the Interior Ministry (MVD) Academy in Tashkent.
Women who graduate from the MVD Academy will serve alongside male colleagues in protecting public places from terrorists and in investigating crimes.
To help policewomen adjust to their demanding job, the government is creating special women's councils within the MVD to help them deal with family- and service-related issues.
"The Uzbekistani police force does not discriminate by gender," MVD spokesman Samvel Petrosyan told Central Asia Online. "Men comprise the majority of police officers, but that's true everywhere."
"The public is most likely to encounter policewomen in public places, where women work in preventing terrorism, for example, by conducting searches [of women]," he said.
"Policewomen work in crime prevention, investigation, dog handling ... and other fields," Petrosyan added.
The door is open to women
"Any woman who wants to become a police officer may apply to the MVD Academy," academy spokesman Khamid Nurullayev told Central Asia Online.
"Women have to be aged 17-23 and have a high school diploma to apply," he said. "They have one advantage relative to men -- they take a modified physical fitness test."
"Preliminary candidate selection took place April 1," Nurullayev added. "The best applicants are waiting for the entrance exam in June. Some of them were women, of course."
A police career appeals to young women, Gulnara Kholikova, a Tashkent police personnel official, told Central Asia Online.
"Upon entering the MVD Academy, women become acquainted with what serving in the MVD requires," Kholikova said. "For a lot of them, it seems their dreams have come true. Only after they start doing their job, do they [realise what it means]."
"You have to demonstrate professional excellence, forge your character and raise your professionalism," Kholikova said.
"Women are showing their ability to succeed in the MVD," Kholikova said. "Major Nodira Zakirova is one example in the Tashkent police. She started as a private in the administrative office and and made her career in 10 years. Today she's a major."
Proud of her service
"I decided to join the police because it's prestigious," Madina, a Tashkent policewoman who declined to give her last name, told Central Asia Online. "I enjoy serving, and I like the salaries and benefits."
City police departments nationwide have women's councils to help policewomen and their families deal with the stresses of the job.
"Policewomen not only do their job but also take care of their families and children," Kholikova said. "It's not rare for both spouses to work in law enforcement ... We help them work those issues."
Every year, female MVD cadets take part in special contests to identify the best among them. The most recent competition occurred March 6.
The female cadets "compete in running, tug of war, and pistol shooting", Nurullayev said.