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Bamian Dining Facility Employs Afghan Women

By Sgt. Stephanie Hall, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAMIAN, Afghanistan, Sept. 11, 2003 – A U.S. Army provincial reconstruction team, or PRT, sprinkled a dash of Western ideas over a culture flavored with iron-clad traditions when it hired two Afghan women to help at the PRT dining facility here.

The Bamian PRT civil affairs team first brought the up idea to hire Sakina Esmaelie and Aamana Haidari, a mother-and-daughter team, to show the local people "that women can work outside the home in professional capacities," said Lt. Col. Mark T. Schnur, Bamian PRT commander with the Coalition Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force. He said the CA team wanted to get across the message that "while it's very unusual in this culture for (women) to hold paying jobs, it's not necessarily a bad thing."

When the two women were first hired, "there was some initial, slight resistance from the local community," said Schnur. Rumors spread throughout the local village that "we were hiring them for services other than cooking," he added.

To counteract those rumors, the PRT sent out a team to conduct an information campaign.

"Since we have a constant presence in the community, we quickly heard (the rumors), and quickly again moved to counteract them," said Schnur. "We had psychological operations soldiers who are very skilled at getting messages out by going out and mingling in the community, talking with people, and (they) brought this up in a tactful, sensitive way, saying that in our culture, we routinely hire men and women to do the same job with same pay," said Schnur.

The PSYOPS teams dispelled the rumors before they reached the women, so neither was ever touched by them. "I'm just happy to be working here," said Esmaelie, the mother, through an interpreter.

She said she is originally from a small town called Shaydan within the Bamian province, but when the Russians flooded Afghanistan, she fled to Iran in 1979. She didn't return to Afghanistan with her daughter until after the U.S. and coalition forces ousted the Taliban, she said through an interpreter.

Before working at the dining facility, Esmaelie worked for a United Nations element as a cook as well, but then she was offered the opportunity to work at the Bamian PRT, where she and her daughter could both have a job.

"I just came in, I gave them my application and asked for a job, and (the Bamian PRT) gave me a job," said Esmaelie through an interpreter. "I'm so happy."

Spc. Andrew L. Mattice, a cook with the Division Support Command, 10th Mountain Division, said the two women are harder workers than most of the soldiers he's worked with. "They have such a strong work ethic, and they're in the zone" when it comes to their job, said Mattice.

Recently, the Bamian PRT also hired Haidari's husband so "that it was more of a family thing, and also to continue to counteract the perception that we're using them for (reasons) other than cooking," said Schnur.

So far the situation has been successful, said Schnur. "They've learned some English, and they've learned more cooking skills."

Esmaelie said through an interpreter that she and her daughter are happy to work with U.S. and coalition forces because "I'm right there in the mix of the soldiers, and they treat (us) so well."

(Sgt. Stephanie Hall is assigned to the 4th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSakina Esmaelie, an Afghan woman from Bamian, was hired by the Army's Bamian provisional reconstruction team to help out with daily dining facility preparations. Photo by Sgt. Stephanie Hall, USA.  
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