By Army Pfc. Christopher Baker
Special to American Forces Press Service
April 21, 2009 - The Afghan National Police worked with U.S. soldiers serving in Task Force Spartan recently to provide 25 women and their families here with humanitarian aid packages. The police, working with the 10th Mountain Division's 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, distributed the packages, containing food and stuffed animals, at the Wardak Women's Center.
Mahtab Jafari, the provincial director of women's affairs, said the center's goal is more than just helping women in need.
"The first, main goal is to have a safe place for women to go due to any reason," Jafari said. "The second goal is to have an education center to teach women English, computers, or anything they need. But, the overall goal is for the women to be self-sufficient so they can leave the center and provide for themselves or their families."
Army Capt. Tammy Lanning, intelligence officer and Wardak Women's Center liaison, said helping the women of the province is beneficial in several ways.
"I think it's very important, while at the same time, pretty frustrating," she said. "There's a lot of benefit from it. To increase [women's] rights and make them capable will not only help their family, but also decrease the poverty rate in the area."
Lanning said the main challenge lies in changing the way Afghan society views women and instilling confidence in women so they aren't afraid to go outside the home to seek help or education.
Coalition forces hope to help the center accomplish this through a variety of ways.
"We're going to talk to [U.S. Agency for International Development officials] and see if we can fix up the building, because it's already in poor shape," Lanning said. In the short term, fixing a windmill would be a quick, inexpensive way to provide power to the center, allowing use of the building and a women's vocational school for the longterm, Lanning said.
Jafari said she got the idea for a vocational school from other areas using similar programs.
"In other provinces, there are vocational schools for women," she said. "Any type of educational classes for women will help, and since other provinces had them already, we wanted to get ideas from them."
Women's Center officials said they plan to conduct classes, but also want to show women how to provide for themselves so they don't have to rely on the center.
"The goal is to make women self-sufficient," Jafari said. "We don't plan on using the center as a means to sell items, [but] rather to teach women how to make something they can sell on their own."
The Wardak Women's Center has had some success, Jafari said.
"There has been some progress so far, especially for those in need," she said. "The word is getting out that there is a women's society, and women are becoming more active in the community."
The focus is on helping women in and around Mayden Shar, because the women's center does not have access to villages or districts farther away, Lanning said. Meanwhile, Jafari is working to let the women of Wardak know there is a safe place they can get help. She is working with Lanning to get a column in the local paper, and eventually to produce a quarterly magazine for the women's center.
"Basically, it's based on society, on advertising, on promoting women's rights, to let everyone know that the woman is important," Jafari said. "That she can work outside of the house and provide for the family."
(Army Pfc. Christopher Baker serves in the Task Force Spartan public affairs office.)