August 26th was Women’s Equality Day. It marks the anniversary of the 19th Amendment (women getting the right to vote). It’s one of those not-generally-recognized holidays in the general public that actually does get recognized in the military/federal government.
I was on the committee that put together events for marking the day here. And I should explain the here because that partly explains how I got involved. So yes, I’m in Afghanistan but I’m not just at any base in Afghanistan—I’m located at the Headquarters for U.S. Forces here. Basically, the Pentagon away from the Pentagon. So there are some high ranking women walking around, and being younger and being a woman, I’m fairly cognizant that some of these women are the ones who paved the way for other women being in the military. You walk around the building and see people in passing but we don’t often take the time to stop and find out more about them other than work-related things. I wanted to use this event as an opportunity to talk to the women in the building more about the experiences they’ve had in their careers.
So I did. I interviewed a bunch of women in the building, which was fascinating and amazing. AFN, the Armed Forces Network, assisted to put together a 15-minute compilation of some of the interviews.
Here’s the link:
The main thing we did to mark the occasion was to put on an event with guest speakers. We had three speakers come and talk: Brigadier General Laura Richardson (U.S. Army, currently working at ISAF), Brigadier General Khatool Mohammadzai (Afghan National Army, Director of Training at the Ministry of Defense), and Brigadier General Razia Rahimi (Afghan National Army, Chief of Nursing in the Office of the Surgeon General).
Here’s a link to the press release which tells a little bit more about the event and the three speakers: http://www.isaf.nato.int/article/isaf-news-list/military-women-come-together-in-kabul-to-mark-equality-strength-and-achievements.html
To put this a bit more in perspective, there are only four female generals currently serving in Afghanistan. Of any nation. And there are a lot of nations here; Afghan, U.S., all of our coalition partners… even Singapore has a few people here. Four women generals currently serving in Afghanistan. And three of them were in the same room at the same time, speaking to us.
And the fact that there are two female generals in the Afghan Army… think about that. It takes a long time to make the rank of general. Both women have been in the military for over 30 years, and have borne witness to a lot of changes in Afghanistan over that time: occupation by the Soviets and their withdrawal, and the rise and fall of the Taliban. Here’s a great article that gives more of General Mohammadzai’s background: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/11/27/afghanistan-the-trials-of-woman-paratrooper-khatool-mohammadzai.html
Here’s the AFN coverage of the event:
Their speeches were impressive. General Mohammadzai spoke first. It was funny, and at one point she and everyone stopped to laugh, because she was speaking so passionately in Dari, so we could understand how passionate she was about the topic but we had to wait for the translator to understand meaning, and he was speaking very flatly and without the same passion, as translators do. The point she was making was actually a legal point: that this day isn’t about being given the right to vote (and she didn’t say this but the implication is there—that it isn’t just about women). Her point was that people have certain rights by virtue of being people and no one has the right to either give those rights or take them away—inherent or inalienable rights, common to all of us… human rights. The implication is that recognizing a day when women were given rights misses a certain point; that no one had the right to say we didn’t have those rights to begin with. The important thing to understand about this is that in the context of Afghanistan currently, what she was saying is fairly radical.
General Rahimi talked about her experiences but more so, she focused on the advancements being made by women currently. There are more women entering the Afghan military and Afghan government than ever before, and they are making an impact.