What is it like to be a woman serving in the military overseas in Afghanistan? How were you treated? Was it different from the men on your team? What did the Afghan men think of you?
These are some of the many questions people would regularly ask me shortly after returning home from Afghanistan. For a long
While I was deployed to Afghanistan I was part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and as a Civil Engineer I was tasked to work on the “reconstruction” of Afghanistan in the Kapisa province. Reconstruction is in quotes because there was nothing to reconstruct. It was called reconstruction, but it was really just construction of new buildings, roads and bridges.
A Civil Engineer Overseas
As an Engineer I had a direct impact on when contractors were paid, what projects would be sent forward for approval and various other pieces within the job. All in all, it meant I had the ability to create and pay for jobs in a place that desperately needed jobs. The Kapisa province was known primarily for farming and there were a lot of farms, but there were also a lot of people. I was seen as a possible way to make money. Male or female didn’t matter so much when they didn’t have a choice on who they had to work with. I wasn’t the first or the last American female and they didn’t seem to mind.
I know that in the capital Afghanistan (Kabul) women had more freedom of movement and often had the ability to have a voice and even stand up for a cause. Many of the contractors we worked with did not actually live in the province of Kapisa, but in Kabul. That also could be another reason we were not treated quite the way I would have expected. The local national engineers worked with us on a regular basis and I really felt no resentment from them. They lived in Kabul and would come stay on the base for a few days each week.
I wonder what it was like to work for a female in a country where most women didn’t have any rights.
I wish I could tell you I asked, but I didn’t. I do know that in Afghan culture if you don’t get pregnant within the first year of marriage it shows that you (the woman) is broken. The other female engineer and I were both married and had been married for over a year and one of the local national engineers wanted to make sure we knew that we were broken.
I also had another thing that tipped the cards in my favor for being a women in Afghanistan to have less of an effect on me. I had a team of men who carried weapons with the job of protecting me. I guess you can add that I also had a weapon. I always carried a 9mm pistol with me and if I was off base I also had a rifle. The guys protecting me took their job very serious. I don’t ever remember a time when I was off base where I was alone. I would often get mobbed by crowds of people. And when I would start to feel nervous, with one turn of the head I would always find someone right there.
Always protected, always relatively safe.
As safe as you can be in a war zone where there is the potential for danger even in the most unlikely places.
So I don’t really know what it is like to be a woman in Afghanistan.
I do know I didn’t see very many women and when I did they were almost always covered by a burka. Most often when I did see women it was because they were out in the fields, doing what, I’m not sure. I couldn’t go out alone to interact with them and they wouldn’t talk to me if a man was nearby. I’m not sure they would have talked to me anyway. How can an American female with constant protection find a way to connect with a woman in a very different world.
Looking back I do wish I had more empathy and had found a way to be there. To hear them and listen. I know people came to the base regularly asking for help, but it was easy to ignore and think someone else was doing something. I had so much work to do and that technically wasn’t in my job description and what really could I do. I really don’t know.
The women of Afghanistan have such a hard story and it one they can’t even find a way to tell. I wonder if people know how much hurt there truly is in the world. So much hurting, so much pain. I wish I could go back. I wish I could find a way to help just one woman. Because one would be enough to start a ripple in a still pond. Who knows what I could have done?