By Stephanie Salmon, Cadet, West Point Military Academy
Prior to U.S. Female Engagement Teams (F.E.T.s) in Afghanistan, the U.S. experienced difficulty reaching half of the nation’s population: women. As Afghanistan’s population remains evenly split among males and females, the need for American forces to communicate with Afghanistan’s population as a whole remains paramount. With the impediment of strict Pashtun laws on women’s interaction with men in Afghan society, however, the United States’ male-dominated military force recognized a need for change. The introduction of the Female Engagement Team commenced March 2009 to address this need.
In The New York Times article “Women At War,” former U.S. Army Officer Paula Broadwell comments that “women are essential to winning [Afghanistan’s] local hearts and minds…the odds of success significantly improve when we use these forces [F.E.T.s] to establish bonds with the other half of Afghanistan’s population — its women.” As engagement teams enter remote villages with traditional Afgani laws to administer health care, education, supplies, and hope for a promising future, Afghanistan’s female population grows stronger. With a trusted and committed ally as the American female soldier, Afghan women are shown a powerful example to promote positive change. U.S. Female Engagement Teams support the journey to a safe, secure, and sound state of Afghanistan led by powerful female role-models.
Similar to U.S. Female Engagement Teams, foreign countries have also integrated more women into their military and police forces. On November 9, 2009, Iraqi women took a highly anticipated step to gender equality in Iraq. For the first time in the country’s history, 50 women out of a class of 1,100 members graduated from Iraq’s police officer training academy. Many of these women had already completed law school prior to training. While some male counterparts and higher ranking military officers attempted to drive the women from the training grounds, the Iraqi women pushed through, intent to leave their mark in history. For Iraq, women in the police force introduces a new generation of highly successful women who have overcome obstacles still placed on women. A job in the Iraqi police force is not only a male-dominated occupation but among the highest paying as well. The presence of female Iraqi police introduces equality and progress to a corrupt nation through a more resolute interaction, collaboration, and assistance from Iraqi female police to Iraqi women. One female graduate of the academy, Lieutenant Hameed, stated, “Gender provides advantages. They [female police officers] could interview women and children in crimes like rape or sexual abuse in a way that would be hard for men.” Female graduates of the academy who are now officers in the Iraqi police force will certainly continue to revolutionize and restore Iraq to a flourishing nation.
Personally, I find the concept of Female Engagement Teams brilliant. America must respect Pashtun laws on female-male relations in Afghanistan, and F.E.T.’s operate by the local laws. America’s ability to cope with and respect these laws through a specialized female military force further exemplifies our goal to create a prosperous civil and just society for the people of Afghanistan. I think it is vital that we continue to show our desire to promote friendships, education, medical outreach, and a giving hand to the local people. F.E.T.’s execute humanitarian missions on a daily basis. I truly believe a leading role in the security and prosperity of Afghanistan lies in the hearts and minds of the nation’s women.
In regards to the initiation of Iraq’s female military police, I believe this event will serve as a historical cornerstone to the war on gender equality in the country. Though the academy graduated only 50 women and 1,050 men, the fact remains that 50 Iraqi women have the power to promote safety, security, legality, and the truth throughout the nation. I hope their hard work and willpower threads a positive influence into bordering Middle Eastern countries.
For information on other foreign countries female military and police forces such as in India and Sierra-Leone, please click on the links below: