By ISAF Joint Command - AfghanistanFebruary 14, 2011
KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 14, 2011 -- An all-female delegation of eight Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan officials, a 330th Military Police Company personnel security detail, members of Khost Provincial Reconstruction Team and the 3-19th Agribusiness Development Team gathered in Jaji Maidan, Khost province, Afghanistan, Feb. 10.
As a CH-47 Chinook helicopter touched down on a patch of green farmland, which stood in stark contrast from the otherwise brown countryside, local men and children lined the roads and hills staring at these newcomers while military personnel secured the surrounding area.
The group was in Jaji Maidan for one purpose: conduct the coalition's first women's shura, or formal meeting, in the last two years.
Jaji Maidan, a town situated in eastern Khost province, was recently named a peace district because it experiences fewer attacks than surrounding territory. It is known locally as the land of milk and honey.
Because of the relative stability of the area, the shura's goal is to further that stability by targeting members of the population who don't really have a voice, said Maj. Rosemary Reed, 95th Civil Affairs Brigade, working with Khost Provincial Reconstruction Team.
The women of Jaji Maidan possess the skill to turn a common plant in the territory into rope and use it to make intricate beadwork. It is a skill the coalition forces and government members hoped could be leveraged into small business opportunities for the women and surrounding area, said Lt. Col. Pam Moody, 3-19th Agribusiness Development Team.
By bringing Afghan government representatives, such as the director of women's affairs, the participants hope to create a sustainable project. Reed said the representatives got the chance to speak directly to the women in their region and hear what challenges and issues these women face.
The idea for the shura began when the provincial governor requested something be done for the local women, Reed said. It took lots of coordination between many different units to be able to hold a shura of this magnitude.
"The shura is a very traditional way to solve problems," she said.
Shuras are a way for elders and key leaders in the community to address issues in the area. In the U.S., it would be the equivalent of attending a meeting between council members of a town.
Since the area is tribal, their members are elders who have been elected to represent the tribes and villages in the area. Shuras can cover a wide range of topics such as security, law issues and in this case, women's rights.
"We have some very important women here," Moody said. "It is important to show the women at Jaji Maidan that women can be strong, can be studious, can go to high school and better themselves and their families."
The meeting wasn't just a first for the women of Jaji Maidan. For the female soldiers attending, it was the first time they had conducted an all-female mission. The mission entailed escorting the VIPs to the meeting, clearing the building where the meeting was conducted and securing the immediate area from all threats, said Sgt. Priscilla Salazar, noncommissioned officer in charge, 330th Military Police Company personnel security detail.
It was by no means easy getting the number of women required for the mission, Reed said. The Army has no all-female companies. The planners for the meeting faced a challenge of gathering enough women with the capabilities and specialties needed to secure the site, providing security for the government officials and women attending the meeting, and conducting the shura.
Since in Afghanistan only women can engage women, they had to reach out to sister companies all over Khost province to get the women they needed.
To be part of the team, the females had to be at the top of their game. For Spc. Araceli Carrill, who served as point for the 330th Military Police Company personnel security detail, the mission was different from any other she'd undertaken in the 10 months she's been deployed to Afghanistan. Being picked as point meant her team felt safe enough with her in that role.
"It's important that the mission was conducted by females because the Afghan women feel more comfortable with us," Carrill said. "This way they weren't intimidated by males."
While simply having the shura was progress from previous years, the participants found themselves having to take a step back once the meeting got started. Although they had a turnout of about 60 women, the women had more urgent concerns than economic growth.
Many of them were suffering from medical needs such as diarrhea, malaria, skin problems and asthma, said Col. Marilyn Moorse, 3-19th Agribusiness Development Team. For the next meeting, the team promised to bring a doctor to address the women's health concerns.
There are 21 villages in Jaji Maidan. For everybody to have their voice heard, the Afghan women decided two representatives from each village would be elected to bring the concerns of their area to the director of women's affairs at the next meeting, said Moody.
"I'm honored to give these women of the government the opportunity to engage members of the population," Reed said. "The dialogue has been initiated. Now these women have a better understanding of what these people need and will be able to develop projects to help them."