Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence
“American efforts at recruitment have been marked by a 30,000-foot perspective that focuses on numbers, but lacks a sense of the realities for Afghan women on the ground: Many families are wary of allowing their daughters to enlist, acutely aware of cultural notions that women in security forces are “loose” because they work so closely alongside men. A false rumor is all it can take for a male colleague, or neighbor, to undermine a woman’s career — and even cost her her life.”
I can personally confirm nearly everything in this op-ed. Within the Afghan unit I advised for a year I knew male Afghan soldiers who routinely harassed, assaulted, and raped female Afghan soldiers. We, the advisers, could not stop this practice because if we talked about this reality to anyone or even mentioned that we knew it occurred, the women would most likely have been killed in retaliation by the male Afghan soldiers, or out of shame/honor by the families of the female soldiers, who were often unaware their daughters were serving. Having to drink tea and shake hands with active rapists to keep up appearances, not offend their fragile masculinity, and prevent them from killing women you have no power or authority to help is a moral quagmire I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
In this context, I had ISAF/RS advisers focusing on women’s empowerment in Afghanistan visit our camp. Their major focus was making sure all the female soldiers had the proper boot sizes. Unfortunately, the Afghan boot factory had burned down a few years before, so we had to inform them that we were having trouble locating boots for the female soldiers, but had placed an order for the needed boot sizes with an American manufacturer. While this satisfied ISAF/RS temporarily, we had to give weekly updates on the status of the boot order to ensure women were empowered in Afghanistan.
For the record, the violence and trauma inflicted on everyone in Afghanistan is not because of some innate cultural or religious issue present within the many diverse ethnic groups that make up the region. The cause of violence and trauma in Afghanistan is the violence and trauma that has been inflicted on the people of Afghanistan for their entire lives. Their psyches, like all psyches raised with trauma, have developed coping and survival mechanisms, many of them horrific, as a response to the extreme trauma of their environment.