BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (Army News Service, March 5, 2008) - Women's history month kicked off with a celebration of International Women's Day here March 3.

International Women's Day is an official holiday held every March 8 in 23 countries in Europe, Africa and Asia to commemorate the economic, political and social struggles and achievements of women worldwide.

This year, the Combined Joint Task Force-82, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Equal Opportunity and various Civil Military Operations sections sponsored the celebration, which consisted of speeches, an Afghan band and an Afghan fashion show. The theme was "Investing in Women and Girls."

"It's especially important to celebrate (IWD) in Afghanistan to recognize the contributions and sacrifices that the Afghan women have made, and the contributions and sacrifices of the women who have deployed here to support them," said Brig. Gen. Rodney Anderson, the CJTF-82 deputy commanding general for support.

IWD is not widely known in Afghanistan, said Massoud Hossaini, a local photographer with Agence France-Presse. However, Afghan women of influence have participated in events surrounding this holiday in previous years and women such as the Honorable Dr. Husn Banu Ghazanfar and Afghan National Army Gen. Khatool Mohammadzai spoke this year.

Speaking for the Ministry of Women's Affairs, Ghazanfar delivered a speech on the progress of international women. As a lecturer, poet and writer, Ghazanfar gave insight into the struggles that Afghan women have faced and continue to face.

Mohammadzai is Afghanistan's first female general and paratrooper in the Afghan National Army. With more than 500 jumps under her belt and a chest full of medals, she is an example of how women are gradually overcoming their trials and tribulations in Afghanistan.

"I am honored to be a part of this celebration and to be here in Bagram. I am proud to be here with my Afghan and international colleagues in celebrating this wonderful day. I congratulate the whole world's women and Afghan women on this beautiful and important day. This day is a sign that the women of the world are making huge progress," she said.

"It's a particularly important day today. Women have not had rights here and today it's a feeling of freedom," said French Maj. Angelique Esperance, a contracting and legal officer with the French forces. "We can show the Afghan women that we can do anything next to men. Where I am from, we are equal to men and I hope that one day it will be the same here. I hope to see Afghan women take their place in society."

While the crowd took a break to pile their plates full of chicken and beef kabobs, white rice and a double-layered chocolate cake designed with 14 national flags, a local Afghan band called Hamahang performed traditional Afghan music.

"I couldn't wait for this day. I am very proud to play on this great day. I wished for such a day in Afghanistan," said Jawaid Hamahang, the lead singer and keyboardist.

He chose a song titled "Woman" to play for the occasion. It describes the importance of women in society and their roles as mothers and wives.

Then fashion-designer and Kabul boutique-owner, Mina Sherzay, took the stage to introduce her Afghan fashion show.

Sherzay, who was born in Kabul, moved to the U.S. in 1978 prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. She would design and make traditional clothing for herself and for her daughters. In 2001, Sherzay returned to Afghanistan and opened her boutique called Afghanistan World Wide Shopping Online Mall, but she wanted to do more.

"The whole purpose of what I am doing is to economically empower Afghanistan's women," said Sherzay, who has established the Afghan Women's Association and Afghan Women's Federation.

Sherzay hopes to open the world's eyes to the beauty of Afghanistan's culture, which would ultimately bring business from all over to the women who create the line.

U.S. servicemembers and Afghans modeled Sherzay's designer clothes down the runway. The designs ranged from traditional colorful dresses to modern earth-toned suits.

"We use the best silks and jewels. We want to show the best quality, culture and history in the clothes. I want to promote through the clothing and jewelry that the [women] handcrafters create, the diversity of our culture. You can see in the designs of our clothing the different cultures; there are Chinese, Greek and Indian patterns in everything," Sherzay explained. "And, of course, it's the women who keep the culture. They pass it on to their daughters, from generation to generation."

"I wasn't expecting to ever be dressed in these clothes but it's a nice honor," said Spc. Erin Dotson, a cook with the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, whose battalion commander volunteered her to model. She wore a modern two-piece suit with traditional jewelry. "The clothes are very beautiful! And some of them are so modern, it's like stuff that you can find at American Eagle back in the States. I plan on buying my jacket."

(Spc. Melissa M. Escobar serves with the 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)