By Air Force Capt. Stacie N. Shafran
Special to American Forces Press Service
Afghanistan, March 12, 2009 - More than 100 Afghan women and girls celebrated their accomplishments and culture during an International Women's Day celebration March 8 in the Bazarak district of Afghanistan's Panjshir province. The event, organized by the Panjshir director of women's affairs, featured a series of speakers who highlighted economic, political and social challenges, as well as accomplishments of the valley's women.
"Panjshir has very smart women," Deputy Gov. Abdul Kabiri said. "They are working beside the men for the development of society. With education, we can have doctors and teachers. ... Our society needs everything."
One of the most popular presenters, a former Afghan judge named Rahila, was recognized as "Panjshir's Woman of the Year."
Rahila spoke about the Afghan education system during her speech. "We tend to pay more attention to boys, valuing them more than the girls, who are often uneducated," she said. "Women are half of the society. They can participate in whatever they want."
The judge acknowledged that during the majority of her 17-year career, men were displeased with her role. "Don't be discouraged," she said. "One day your daughters can be like me."
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dawn Allison-Hess, intelligence noncommissioned officer for the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team and representative of the PRT's women's affairs section, shared a similarity between Afghan and American women.
"The reason I can stand before you as a woman serving in the U.S. military is because of the hard work, sacrifice and dedication of countless women who came before me," said Allison-Hess, who's deployed from Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas. "I am grateful for their dedication, as I know your daughters and granddaughters will be grateful to you for selflessly striving to secure their futures."
Following the speeches, the women and girls feasted on a traditional Afghan lunch of pilau, a rice dish made with raisins and carrots.
"This was an opportunity of a lifetime to meet with the women who influence the lives of Panjshir," said Air Force Maj. Valerie Trump, the PRT's nurse practitioner, who is deployed from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
"The female judge and the doctors impressed me the most because of their hearts and their powerful minds," she said. "It was a proud day for me to be a part of their celebration. I believe the Panjshir women are the key to affecting change in their families and, ultimately, this will improve the quality of life here."
(Air Force Capt. Stacie N. Shafran serves with the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team.)