Afghan women break barriers in a male bastion: the army
Los Angeles Times: Despite social taboos and other hurdles, a group of twenty nine women become the first to graduate from an officer-candidate program mentored by U.S. troops. Officials hope to eventually go from a few hundred women to 30,000 female soldiers.
"The drive to bring Afghan security forces up to a reasonable fighting standard has taken on added urgency; their role is considered central to the U.S. exit strategy. Western officials hope that in three years, Afghan soldiers and police officers will assume the lead role in safeguarding the country.
For that, women are badly needed, not only for culturally sensitive tasks such as entering homes and dealing directly with the women present, or carrying out body searches on other women. They also are expected to fill out the ranks as the armed forces embark on a concerted expansion.
Women account for a tiny fraction of both the police and army, even after almost a decade of intensive nurturing by U.S. and other foreign forces. Only a few hundred women serve in the army. But the goal that women eventually will make up 10% of a force that is slated to grow to nearly 300,000. Many of the women who have joined the security forces, particularly those from rural areas, face intense opposition from family, community elders and sometimes from the men they serve alongside.
A new facility is being constructed for them at the main Kabul Military Training Center, and the next women's officer-candidate class is expected to be five times the size of this one. As so often happens in Afghanistan, what appears to be an advance for women is simply a matter of regaining rights once freely enjoyed. Twenty years ago, it was not uncommon for women to hold top ranks in the Afghan military. But during the ferocious civil war of the early 1990s, followed by the five-year reign of the Taliban movement, women could barely leave home, let alone hold positions of authority outside it."