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The Killid Group

Afghan Army: 140,000 men, 1,000 women

Written by Abeda MoadabTelayee
Saturday, 05 February 2011 15:27

Afghan Army: 140,000 men, 1,000 women Females make less than one percent of the fledging Afghan National Army (ANA) but the minimum officially required ratio is 10 percent, according to a Killid investigative report. Out of the over 140,000 ANA force only 1,000 are female who are tasked to various administrative, logistical and health sections.

In the volatile Kandahar and Ghazni provinces, army officials said that there was no female in the military ranks. In the western province of Herat, there is only one female officer who is originally from Kabul's Paghman District, according to the commander of 207th Zafar Corps.
Acknowledging the vast gender disparity in the country's military forces, officials in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) blamed social and cultural traditions which impede women's participation in the military ranks.
"The current numbers are very low," said Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the MoD, adding that the government was trying to tackle the problem.
"We have established special training facilities for the women and girls who want to join the army such as segregated classrooms, female trainers, etc," he said.
A group of 29 females completed a 20-week training programme by U.S. and Afghan military experts in 2010 and efforts are underway to increase the numbers of trainees in 2011, officials said. 
MoD officials said females, 18 to 35 years age, were encouraged to join the army through a six-month training period in which, on top of accommodation, every recruited female was entitled to a salary of 5,000 Afghanis (US$110) per month. Upon graduation the salary would be increased to at least 12,000 Afghanis ($266).
Females do not take part in direct combat activities but mostly work in administrative and healthcare duties due to the cultural restrictions, officials said.

Social stigma
A key obstacle towards females' participation in the ANA and the Afghan National Police (ANP) ranks is the existence of a predominant and strong patriarchal culture in which women are mostly considered inferior to male.
"Families do not allow their females to work in the ANA and police because military duties are considered as being masculine and therefore inconvenient for women and girls," said Ahmad Jawad, a vendor in Kabul.
His view was echoed by several other men who said women were unfit for the heavy military jobs.
However, females served in high numbers in the military and police ranks under the former communist regimes (1979-1991) but with the arrival of the Mujahedeens into power in 1991 both security institutions were disintegrated primarily for ideological reasons.
Under the Taliban, 1996-2001, females were denied the right of work and education entirely.
Some female army officers said that there was a strong sensitivity against the military uniform used by women.
"I change my uniform and wear civilian clothes and a Burka when I go to my home," said Kamila, an army officer, who like many other Afghan women goes with one name.
"People don't like women who wear military uniforms," she said.
Women who defy traditions and join the ANA and ANP sometimes end up losing social ties, respect and even friends and relatives.
"My in-laws ceased familial relations with me since I joined the army but I am glad my husband supported me," said another female army officer who preferred anonymity.

In addition to the strong social and traditional restrictions, ANA female officers even feel gender-based discrimination at their offices.
Several mid-level female ANA officials complained they were denied progress opportunities because of gender discrimination.
"We are not entitled to equal opportunities because we are women," alleged one officer who did not want to be identified fearing this could result in retribution by senior MoD officials.
Others even alleged "harsh treatments" with females in the ANA ranks.
Zahir Azimi, MoD's spokesman, rejected the criticisms and said women were treated equally as men in the military. He said women were even entitled to some exceptional incentives such as no night shifts and gender-oriented trainings.
However, it was unclear how many women were in the MoD's top echelon and other senior management posts.
"Afghan women have proved their bravery in the history," said army major Fahima, "it is time for them to join the ANA and ANP and defend their country and thereby prove that women are equal to men in everything."
Under Afghanistan's constitution women are entitled to equal rights and privileges as men and the government is tasked to ensure equal job, work and development opportunities for all the citizens. 
For the ANA and ANP to consolidate as strong and competent institutions and respond to the security needs of the Afghan citizens, women and girls must have fair and better participation opportunities.
Under strong international support the ANA and ANP are expected to grow their numbers and capacities over the next three years and assume all domestic security responsibilities from US/NATO forces by 2014.

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