Women on the Front Line in a Battle for the “Hearts and Minds” of the Afghan People

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The sway of public opinion, both domestic and international, can drastically affect the outcome of a war. The U.S. Marines seem to have just realized that they have no idea how half of the population in Afghanistan views them. That’s because women rarely interact with the male dominated U.S. forces on the ground. Next month they will send the first “female engagement teams” to try to better connect to the female population in Afghanistan. Since a large portion of the population of women feel uncomfortable talking to men, especially soldiers, these women will bridge the gap between U.S. forces and Afghan women.

These women will undergo a completely different kind of training—one of cultural awareness, and people skills. The operation, however, is three-fold. One aspect of it aims to win over the female population by talking with them and relating to them, woman to woman. Another aspect is learning what the community really needs, so that aid can be spent most effectively, and infrastructure can be rebuilt. The last aspect is intelligence related—the possibility that some of these women might have information about the Taliban.

It seems like common sense to utilize every aspect of diplomatic relations in wartime. Perhaps it’s because women in Afghanistan rarely draw attention to themselves, or because we tend to think strictly in military strategy rather than humanitarian strategy, but the fact that Afghan women have been left out of the war-winning equation until now is a little perplexing.  Understanding the importance of women in rebuilding a society is essential. Especially a peaceful society. The narrow focus on war will only perpetuate itself. But a focus on peace, on education, on healthcare, and on human rights will direct society towards stability.

Who knows about these issues in Afghanistan better than women? The women have, after all, been confined to their homes for years. They have had to directly confront the realities of a non-existent infrastructure, and a non-functioning public sector. At Barakat we understand how important the education and health of women are to a functioning society. That’s why our programs focus on equipping them with the tools they need to participate in a democratic society. Worldwide, and especially in Afghanistan, women are the key to a successful future.

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