Trainers Aim to Increase Women’s Role in Afghan Society
By Ian Graham
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
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.”