Afghanistan Urges Women to Join Military
In the weeks after Afghanistan’s first female pilot sparked a national debate on women’s rights, Afghanistan rolled out initiatives in January 2017 to encourage more women to join the military. With incentives including a special salary scale for female recruits, the Defense Ministry aims to boost the proportion of women in the Army to 10 percent, said Mohammad Radmanesh, deputy ministry spokesman.
“At this stage, we have 1,575 Afghan women in our Army ranks,” he said. “It is a mere 3 to 4 percent, which is nothing.” In addition to that, 400 Afghan female recruits are training at Defense Ministry installations.
Despite improvements in female societal participation since the fall of the Taliban regime 15 years ago, men make up almost all the Afghan military. In December 2016, 25-year-old pilot Niloofar Rahmani sparked debate nationwide by announcing her decision to seek asylum in the United States, citing fears for her safety in Afghanistan. She had become a symbol of hope for millions of Afghan women as the country’s first female pilot since the Taliban era. But with the fame came death threats from insurgents.
Kabul’s military training academy has consistently churned out classes of enthusiastic women who serve in Afghanistan’s Army and express pride in helping to secure their country.
“I decided to join the Army to save the lives of my people and to defend ourselves,” said student Sakina Jafari, adding that she believed her service set an example for other women.
Women and men train separately at the base on the outskirts of the capital, but officers say the training is similar and includes physical education, firearms, tactics and first aid. Though many women go into noncombat roles like management, human resources, logistics, radio operations or intelligence, Lt. Col. Cobra Tanha said others assist Afghan special forces with missions like night raids, which often require women to help with culturally sensitive searches of homes.
The U.S., which keeps troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led mission to advise and train Afghan forces, budgeted more than $93 million in 2016 to increase the number of women in the military to 5,000.
Women working in public positions are controversial in Afghanistan. Last year, nearly 60 percent of Afghans surveyed by the Asia Foundation frowned on women enlisting in the Army or police. Even after joining, women may confront obstacles to jobs and promotions, according to the U.S. government’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
NATO trainers found that common reasons women cited for leaving the security forces were “opposition from male relatives, problems with male colleagues, low pay, family obligations, lack of promotion or meaningful assignment opportunities, and a lack of training and security,” according to SIGAR.
Benafsha Sarwari, a teacher at the Kabul academy, echoed these sentiments.
“I have experienced many challenges,” she said. “We live in a conservative society, and most people are pessimistic about the women who work outside. But we must not give up. We have to overcome the challenges and perform our duties.” Sources: The Peninsula, Reuters