By Sgt. Melissa Stewart, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain DivisionMarch 15, 2012
ZHARAY DISTRICT, KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (March 15, 2012) -- March 8 was International Women's Day, and around the globe, ladies commemorated the day by focusing on women's rights and achievements. Local women here celebrated the day with a shura at the Zharay District Center.
"We had a lot of the local women here. They came out, and we just talked about the importance of women in society," said Sgt. Anna Cuthbertson, a civil affairs specialist with 445th Civil Affairs Battalion, attached to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
Zharay District Governor Niaz Sarhadi spoke at the shura about increasing women's rights in Afghanistan and equality between the genders. An Afghan National Security Forces commander spoke to women about their important role in the ANSF.
"We wanted to get the point across that women are valuable even if they are inside the homes taking care of the children, which is very meaningful," Cuthbertson said. "Women play a vital role in Afghanistan, even though their role is generally behind the scenes."
Speakers at the shura told the women that they share equal rights with Afghan men, according to Islamic and Afghan law. Sarhadi told the women the Afghan government views them as equals and will support and protect them.
"Even though it seems like they play a secondary role, they are the foundation of what anybody does," Cuthbertson said. "Even if you only see the face of men in Afghanistan, what most people don't realize is that every man has to ask permission from his mother before he does anything, whether it's go to school or plant an improvised explosive device. If women have knowledge, and they know where they want Afghanistan to go, they can make decisions for their men, even though they are behind the scenes."
After the speeches, women took their children into the district center's medical to receive free polio vaccinations. The women also received humanitarian aid.
"We did some vaccinations today to get the kids healthy for school. We also gave them some chickens and rice so they can have a good dinner tonight," Cuthbertson said.
The shura did not just help out local women for the day; it also helped inform them about their rights. The event also was used as an opportunity to get women more involved with International Security Assistance Force projects.
"We are trying to operationalize gender across all lines of effort, which means that gender is not a specific mission, but it is an integral part of each mission," said Capt. Jessica Sweeney, gender coordinator for Regional Command South.
Sweeney also spoke to the wo-men about reintegration, which has been a major part of the Afghan government's plan for some time. Through the Afghan led and coordinated program, former insurgents complete a rigorous tiered reintegration process, while swearing to never engage with the Taliban again. Persons who complete the process receive a stipend from the Afghan government, and they are then released to their families. Women play an integral role in reintegration, whether they realize it or not.
"Every Taliban fighter has a mother and or a wife and daughter and sisters. If we can promote awareness of it within the family and within the community, there's the hope that it will encourage more people to come in," Sweeney explained.
By informing women about re-integration, they can speak to their loved ones about it, increasing the chance that more insurgents will lay down their weapons and pledge loyalty to the Afghan government. Women from Zharay District left the shura with more knowledge of their rights roles in the fight against the Taliban.