Afghan Women Face Challenges
09/20/10 7:34AM By Steve Zind  Download MP3
(Host) Among the jobs being done by the Vermont Guard in Afghanistan is police training. More specifically, male police training.
VPR's Steve Zind is with the guard, and in this Report from Afghanistan he looks at the challenges facing afghan women who want to pursue professional lives.
(Zind) Just over 50 Vermont National Guard soldiers live at a police station in the city of Charikar, the capital of Parwan Province, north of Kabul.
A woman named Bibiaalya sits by herself in a small room with a broken window at entrance to the station. It's her job to search the women who come to see the police.
Bibiaalya says she's one of only three women police in the entire province.
She says there are so few women police because in many cases husbands or fathers won't allow their wives or daughters to work.
Afghanistan is still a largely traditional society. Those women who choose to pursue professional lives face obstacles.
(Zind) One day a group of Vermont Guard soldiers based in Charikar heads out on patrol. They pass through the gate where Bibiaalya works and walk to the office of an Afghan women's organization.
Two of the Vermont soldiers are women: Sergeant Nicole Seitz formerly of East Topsham and Sergeant Jayme Belval of Moretown. They go inside with an interpreter while the men wait at the gate.
The NGO is called the Women's Affairs Department. It's run by a woman named Shajan Yazdanparast.
Seitz explains that she and Belval are an advance team for a larger group, called an FET or Female Engagement Team that would visit the following day.
(Seitz) "They're basically trying to help the female population and outreach to you guys to see what they can do, as much as they can do."
(Zind) If Seitz and Belval were thinking they might field a few modest requests, they were mistaken. Yazdanparast, who's an energetic and voluble woman has some very pressing needs.
(Yaadanparast in Dari)
(Zind) First there's security.
(Seitz and Belval) "What is the security problem? Just lack of proper security? Or is it personnel? What's the problem?"
(Zind) Yazdanparast wants women police officers to provide security both at the center and when her staff is visiting rural areas. She says the province needs many more women police officers and more women need to be trained to use guns.
At the end of the visit, Yazdanparast gives an overview of the situation for women in Afghanistan.
(Yazdanparast in Dari)
(Zind) As the translator tried to keep up, she ticks off a list of issues: Lack of education and a related lack of job opportunities. A high mortality rate among pregnant women, due to poor access to health care for rural women. Forced marriage and violence against women are also serious problems for Afghan women, she says.
As she walks back to the police station Sergeant Seitz says she'd be happy to address one of Yazdanparast's requests and help train women police recruits.
(Seitz) "Who decides who gets to go to the ANP training and stuff and how often do they let females actually do it, that may be something that we can work on. It's a lot of political stuff that's way above and beyond me."
(Zind) The U.S. military, including the Vermont Guard is working with police in Parwan province. But one officer heading up efforts there says increasing the number of women police will require a cultural shift that Afghans will have to make themselves - just as Americans did at one point in their history.
For VPR news, I'm Steve Zind in Charikar, Afghanistan.
(Host) "Report From Afghanistan with Steve Zind" is made possible by the VPR Journalism Fund.