Trainers Aim to Increase Women’s Role in Afghan Society

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2011 — Human rights has been a hot top­ic in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s near-medieval treat­ment of Afghan girls and women became known. Now that Afghanistan is work­ing toward a more mod­ern soci­ety and gov­ern­ment, the rights of the nation’s female pop­u­la­tion are mov­ing front and cen­ter for those in charge of NATO Train­ing Mis­sion Afghanistan and Com­bined Secu­ri­ty Tran­si­tion Com­mand Afghanistan.

In a “DOD Live” blog­gers round­table today, Jack Kem, deputy to the train­ing orga­ni­za­tions’ com­man­der, dis­cussed gen­der ini­tia­tives in the Afghan secu­ri­ty force and how coali­tion train­ers are work­ing with the Afghan inte­ri­or defense min­istries on ini­tia­tives to devel­op edu­ca­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties and increase the num­ber of women in pro­fes­sion­al roles.

“The gov­ern­ment of Afghanistan reit­er­at­ed its com­mit­ment to pro­tect and pro­mote the human rights of all Afghan cit­i­zens, and to make Afghanistan a place where men and women enjoy secu­ri­ty, equal rights and equal oppor­tu­ni­ties in all spheres of life,” Kem said, quot­ing a com­mu­niqué from the Unit­ed Nations’ Lon­don Con­fer­ence on Afghanistan in Jan­u­ary 2010.

Afghanistan has some his­to­ry of pro­mot­ing human rights pri­or to the Tal­iban regime and since the Taliban’s removal from pow­er, Kem not­ed. It was one of the first nations to sign the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Human Rights in 1948; it signed the Unit­ed Nations’ con­ven­tion on the elim­i­na­tion of all forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion against women and sup­ports imple­men­ta­tion of U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 1325, which address­es women’s rights and their role in main­tain­ing peace.

In fact, Kem said, the train­ing effort falls direct­ly in line with the Afghan con­sti­tu­tion.

“Our effort to sup­port gen­der and human rights in Afghanistan is con­sis­tent with a num­ber of inter­na­tion­al and Afghan doc­u­ments,” he said. “Most impor­tant­ly, Arti­cle 22 of the Afghan con­sti­tu­tion states: ‘The cit­i­zens of Afghanistan, whether man or woman, has equal rights and duties before the law.’”

Kem said the plan is based around “gen­der main­stream­ing,” a strat­e­gy to pro­mote gen­der equal­i­ty. Offi­cials want to increase the num­ber of women in high­er edu­ca­tion and in the Afghan police and mil­i­tary forces.

“The Afghan Nation­al Devel­op­ment Strat­e­gy details the Afghan government’s gen­der equi­ty strat­e­gy to address and reverse women’s his­tor­i­cal dis­ad­van­tages,” he said.

Some atti­tudes will need to change in the coun­try, Kem said, but those are in the minor­i­ty. Three recent sur­veys done by the U.N., non­govern­ment orga­ni­za­tions and media groups have shown a trend among Afghans toward an equal role for women and men in Afghan soci­ety.

“Each of those polls con­sis­tent­ly shows there is sup­port in the Afghan pop­u­la­tion for girls and women going to school and being able to work,” Kem said. “There are some dif­fer­ences in the south, where there’s a more con­ser­v­a­tive atti­tude, but across the board, the major­i­ty of the Afghan pop­u­la­tion sup­ports girls and women being able to go to work and being able to go to school, and I think that’s very sig­nif­i­cant.”

Kem also said the NATO train­ing mission’s gen­der main­stream­ing plan has seen quan­tifi­able advances. The com­mand intends to have 5,000 women in the Afghan Nation­al Police by 2014, com­pared to between 1,000 and 1,200 today. It makes sense cul­tur­al­ly to have women work­ing in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions, he said, espe­cial­ly at air­ports and bor­der cross­ing points, where women could be searched.

“There’s a great accep­tance for women in par­tic­u­lar roles,” Kem said. “In both the army and police, we’ve worked to enhance some of the oppor­tu­ni­ties that exist for women. There’s been some cod­ing … for posi­tions so that men and women are eli­gi­ble to oper­ate in them. For exam­ple, we’re find­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly in per­son­nel and logis­tics fields, they’re wide open for women.”

The num­bers are small now, Kem said, but they are grow­ing. He added that the sec­ond Afghan army offi­cer can­di­date school is in ses­sion. In Octo­ber, the first women grad­u­at­ed from Afghanistan’s OCS, and four of them now are prepar­ing to attend school to become pilots.

“We’re very hope­ful that we will con­tin­ue to have women have a larg­er role [in the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces],” Kem said. “But the idea is you have to start from the ground up. There weren’t many women before, we’re tak­ing in more and more recruits in the police and the army, [and] we’re also tak­ing in more offi­cers.”

Kem said women hold high-rank­ing roles in the Afghan inte­ri­or and defense min­istries. In the defense min­istry, a new office is open­ing to over­see mil­i­tary gen­der inte­gra­tion and mit­i­gate any prob­lems. A colonel will over­see the new office, and that colonel will be a woman, Kem said.

“There is good accep­tance, but the num­bers are small, and we’re try­ing to do it in such a way that are irre­versible and put women into roles that are impor­tant, crit­i­cal and will last for many years,” he said. “So, even though it is slow, it’s sig­nif­i­cant to see some of the move­ment that’s been made in the past 15 months.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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