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Women A Crucial Part of the Mission in Afghanistan

Women A Crucial Part of the Mission in Afghanistan

On a day that marks the sacrifices made by our men and women in the armed services, it is important to remember that so often their duties extend far beyond armed patrols.  Those tasks, for some women, include building local economies in remote reaches of Afghanistan. 

Women are still barred from combat branches like the infantry, but all branches of the armed services are beginning to understand the crucial role women play in executing a mission of nation-building.  Regardless of your opinion as to whether or not the United States should be in the business of nation-building, the fact remains that in Afghanistan, that’s the mission.  And it’s a mission that at times requires a softer touch to help bridge the cultural divide that separates Afghani and American men.

Female engagement teams, or fets as they are known, are helping redefine gender roles in combat as their once reluctant male peers come to rely more and more on them.  One fet has been sent to accompany all-male foot patrols in Hemland Province, in southern Afghanistan, to win over the Afghan women.  Officers, over multiple cups of tea, made small talk with the Afghan women.  After a few connections were made, the officers were encouraging the Afghan women to sew items that could be sold at a local bazaar as a means of empowering the Afghan women and creating some stability of economy that does not rely on a drug trade.

The all-female teams are also desperately needed in medical clinics to help treat the local population.  When that happens trust gets built between the communities and the tricky business of enacting a counterinsurgency campaign takes hold.

And it makes sense.  The entire goal of the mission is to swing the trust and alliances of the Afghan people away from the Taliban, and you simply can’t do that if you engage with only half of the population.  Many of the female officers reported being met with skepticism by the Afghan women as they removed their combat helmets, and some refused to even believe they were actually women.  According to some of the officers the Afghan women demanded they lift their shirts and pants, while others found themselves poked in their breasts or pubic area to prove they were actually women.

The skepticism does not end with the Afghan women.  Female officers have had to prove their worth to their male counterparts.  They carry the same weapons as the men, receive the same combat training as the men, yet they cannot leave the bases unless the men escort them.  That fact alone can often keep gender prejudices entrenched on the base, but like the Afghan population, the men in the military are slowly coming around.

Once those cultural divides break down, a process the officers admit does not happen over night, the payoff is almost immediate.  The women get access to parts of Afghanistan that were simply off limits to American forces before.  They also serve as a powerful visual for a female population with zero opportunity.  They’ve been able to encourage Afghan women to go to school, and in turn, teach their daughters to read.  These may seem like small tasks, but they are exactly the kind of tasks that will turn a nation.

So on this Memorial Day let’s give a very special thank you to these women for doing the job of truly building nations, one village at a time.

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photo courtesy of Afghanistan matters via Flickr

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49 comments

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10:06PM PDT on Oct 12, 2010

There's really no doubt about that. They certainly have played and still playing very crucial part in the still going MISSION.

12:37AM PDT on Jun 23, 2010

Thanks

6:04PM PDT on Jun 15, 2010

Bullets and firepower also count insofar as women can use them they are soldiers, inasmuchas women can direct them they are officers or generals, this stuff is just junk work, I would really get those Afghan females disciplined who insult American military women, butthen they probably tolerate the same and more from their doctors so one thing leads to another

7:05PM PDT on Jun 11, 2010

US is an Emprire, so it does it for it's own interest most of the time. The Taliban and Al Qaeda should have been removed a long time ago. Let's hope everything here is for a good cause and to help the Afghans....

1:51PM PDT on Jun 7, 2010

Interesting. The subject of war comes up in the women's column and there appears to be a higher percentage of male respondents than usual. Probably not fair to draw any conclusion from that, but hey after all, war is mostly a man thing.

11:56PM PDT on Jun 3, 2010

http://dine.racoma.com.ph/faith/the-maguindanao-massacre-now-my-children-dont-look-forward-to-christmas/

The Maguindanao Massacre
Now my children don’t look forward to Christmas

"We woke up one fine morning to learn about the despicable and brutal massacre by a hundred heavily armed men, of the supporters of Buluan Vice Mayor Toto Mangudadatu and their companions (mostly women, journalists covering the event and some motorists who happened to be in the same location) while they were on their way to the Comelec office to file the Certificate of Candidacy on behalf of the Vice Mayor. A total of 57 (current tally) bodies were found in the massacre site in Barangay Saniag, Ampatuan town–the graves apparently prepared way ahead of time.

Where women should be respected, they were raped, killed and their bodies mutilated.

Where lawyers accompanying them to aid them in due process were raped, killed and their bodies mutilated.

Where journalists, doing their jobs in the name of free press and democracy were brutally killed.

Where motorist who had nothing to do with them, and just happened to be in the same site, were brutally killed just the same.

It’s so pathetic! So sad–the heart is heavy, to the point of anger. To the point of hopelessness, especially when you hear your leader’s spokesman say,

“There are certain procedures we must follow.”

“We don’t want people to be unnecessarily tried through publicity.”

9:21AM PDT on Jun 3, 2010

Why does it seem that so often women are the builders and healers and men are the destroyers? How do we reconcile the two? Kudos to these women. Keep up the good work!

8:51PM PDT on Jun 2, 2010

we are because the war was started over a lie and then it was to help them of why we where going over there then they find out that was a lie now it's just kill them all holy war holy war

are people are being sent over there to die not letting them have equipment known would save there lives then we get video's of blackwater troops killing off reguler citizens and pinning it on are troops
while at the same time are troops are over there being critesized for a war there against and not sent back and now we have blackwater troops running anti terrorist police task force groups in are home towns why they call us the terrorist now

are any of you getting this?
or do you really think are government or any other government has there citizens best interest at heart. NO THEY DON'T if you did some research you would find not only have they been feeding the problems in are country there policies have run no where other then cover it up and destroy are Right's while protending to protect us they have far more sinester plans then that and your best interest is not on the table, heres what they do behind your back run drugs for bank's londering the drug money for the drug cortals sell these cortals 90% of there guns then start a law banning drugs pin the users as poor class then they bust down there house take there property take what bit of money they have then take there kids sell them off. no this country is not free not at all, it's government is as corrupt as ever

12:46AM PDT on Jun 2, 2010

There's a great book called "3 Cups of Tea" which ties in incredibly well with this post. It's about an American, Greg Mortensen, who started an education mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Incredible story. Should be required reading for all military decision makers!!! It's simply incredible and we could all learn from it! Education, women's empowerment, tolerance and understanding is what it takes to bring lasting peace!

12:00AM PDT on Jun 2, 2010

regardless of what the US policy and all that is about, i'm happy that some people are on the side of the afgani woman!

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