Securing a Future for Women in Afghanistan
If we want to have any engagement with the other half of Afghan society we need to have female units on our side that can talk with Afghan women. While combat units are on the ground in Afghanistan the focus on the culture of the Afghan people that Female Engagement Teams represent is a significant advancement in understanding. This was the sentiment of Professor David Cortwright the director of policy studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies when I asked him about the benefit of FETs.
In honor of International Women’s Day Cortright was at Hamline University giving a lunchtime lecture to a class of about 40 students. He continued his message by saying progress has been made in Afghanistan, 10 years ago only 900,000 children, all boys, went to school. Now 7.3 million students, of which 37% are girls, are enrolled in school. Parliament is made of 25% women, though to what extent do they have their own voice is unknown. Women are indeed gaining employment, they are sewing or making rugs in their homes. Micro-loan programs are beginning to make a small, positive impact on the women they reach.
But there’s more to it than that semi-rosy picture. Cortright has traveled to Kabul to interview women about what their greatest needs are. What he heard loud and clear can be boiled-down to security. With hundreds of thousands of troops (U.S., NATO, ANA) on the ground and outnumbering the Insurgents by a margin of anywhere from 4:1 to 6:1 women are still worried for their safety. They feel they have nowhere to turn. US, NATO and the ANA do not increase their sense of security.
The Insurgents are mobile. They are not going to stay in the areas where there is the greatest military presence. They’re on the move. The Insurgents, according to Cortright, have not been, and likely cannot be, beat so it’s time to focus on different tactics, peacekeeping tactics.
Can the Agribusiness Development Teams that have been in Zabul make a difference? As I’m in Zabul with the Minnesota National Guard’s Zabul Agribusiness Development Team I will be interested to talk to Afghans and Soliders to see if Professor Cortright’s Kabul-based research holds true in the rural settings of southeastern Afghanistan. Cortright said that as long as we are seen as occupiers, as long as we are kicking down doors in the middle of the night we are not going to win anyone over. Afghans are not interested in working with a group that routinely breaks into their neighbor’s homes. We need to, in the words of Ghafar Lakanwal, ‘see what Afghans see‘.
In a province like Zabul perhaps US and NATO forces are far-enough removed from the days of kicking down doors to begin to sway Afghans with education, information and support. This is perhaps the entire point of my journey.
Professor Cortright will be making another appearance in the Twin Cities on March 9, 2012. If you have a chance to hear him speak I would recommend doing so. His views are thought provoking. This is a link to a PDF, it is Cortright’s May 3, 2011 report to the U.S. House of Representatives.
I videotaped Professor Cortright’s presentation and have edited his comments, here’s an eight minute excerpt.