By Army Staff Sgt. Ashlee Lolkus
Combined Joint Task Force 101
PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan (5/12/11) – Afghan leaders of this province met with the Republic of Korea Provincial Reconstruction Team and the Women’s Empowerment Team of the Kentucky National Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team III for a gender equality awareness conference Tuesday.
Those attending the conference at the ROK Charikaar Base, Afghanistan, learned what the international community considers gender inequality and how important the issue is in other countries, said Dr. Hyunjoo Song, gender adviser for the ROK PRT.
Segregation of the sexes is very normal in Afghan society, she continued, but Afghans don’t really know that international communities consider segregation of men and women to be discrimination.
“The training should not take place in one [session], it should take place continuously with the same audience, because it is not easy to change the people’s attitudes,” said Song.
Education has three components: acquiring skills, transferring knowledge and changing attitudes. Among the three components, changing people’s attitudes is the most difficult, according to Song.
“The gender seminar is to change their attitudes,” said Song. “That’s why we have to have the capacity-building seminars with the same audience.”
Coalition forces held a similar conference Dec. 14 in Charikar Division, where Song spoke to more than 30 participants, including attorneys and the mayor, about gender awareness.
“The conference was a good experience, and I learned a lot,” said Mohammad Taher, deputy director for economics in Parwan Province, through an interpreter. “All of the issues she talked about, she is right. Mainly in villages, there is a lot of [discrimination] going on, but big cities are better at respecting women more because they are better educated.”
Carmen Tamras, linguist with the Parwan PRT, said when they go to the villages to talk to the people, many men will not allow her to talk to the women.
“The men think that since we are Westerners that we are going to try to teach their wife inappropriate things, so they don’t want them anywhere near us,” she explained.
“But when we talk to them and say, ‘I am a mother, I am a daughter, or a sister, or a wife, or whatever,’ show them some pictures of our family, show them that I work really hard and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t need to be so they can look at us like a human being just like them ... then they can let us in.”
Because talking to the women of the villages can be difficult, the Kentucky Guard ADT III takes a different approach.
“We make sure we tie ourselves to the female leadership,” said Army Capt. Carla Getchell, Kentucky ADT III women’s empowerment coordinator.
At the operational level, the Kentucky ADT ties female leadership such as the director of women’s affairs in with important meetings. They also teach the same kinds of things their male counterparts are teaching to ensure men and women are educated equally on finding resources for their projects.
Like previous counterparts, Getchell and her team plan to be involved in projects to help Afghan women earn an income through agriculture. Past projects taught widowed and low-income Afghan women how to raise poultry and beekeeping.
“The goal, when setting up the poultry or beekeeping projects, is that coalition forces don’t do the training. What we do is assist the local leadership, the female leadership, in resourcing the training,” explained Getchell.
“They provide the location, and we help them find resources for the training. We are the facilitators in connecting the Afghan [women] with resources available throughout the country.”
Song supports the work of the Kentucky ADT III.
“When the women start to make money on their own, it empowers them because they will be less dependent on other people,” said Song. “It will definitely change their attitudes and change their husbands’. It could change the power structure in the household; it is not common, but it could change.”
Combining the work of the PRT and the Kentucky ADT’s women’s programs, Afghan women may be able to start seeing progress in gender equality, said Getchell.
“I think one of biggest goals of [these gender awareness conferences] is just getting all of the women in the same room so that they are talking,” said Getchell.
“Networking is huge, and for us, in order to get them to a successful level, they have to know who they can call. Once [they] know the right people to talk to, it’s much easier to get [their] job done. We want the line directors to be able to talk to the different leaders they have in their areas so that they can start solving their own problems when they occur.”
Song said she intends to keep working on spreading gender awareness.
“I’d wanted to have gender conferences on a regular basis, like every month [after December’s conference], but due to the limited mobility and transportation, I couldn’t keep the seminars going,” said Song. “If the conditions allow it, I will keep the seminars on a regular basis ....
“In ’sha Alla,” she said, meaning, “If God wills it.”