People often ask me what it was like to be a woman overseas. When I first came home I was confused as to why.
Before I left for Afghanistan my teammate and I had been given a head covering to wear. We thought it would be good to wear them to be respectful toward the Afghan culture. Once we arrived we were told that if we wanted to be respected as the men on our team we should not wear the head coverings. Being a woman overseas already didn’t look like what I expected.
Because I was an American woman overseas I would not be treated like an Afghan woman. I was told that American women and other women fighting with NATO were considered a third sex and depending on your education would deem the respect you were given. In Afghanistan, engineers are a premium. When you meet an Afghan Engineer they would introduce themselves as Eng so and so, just the way Americans use the term Doctor.
A Female Engineer
Since I was an Engineer and Officer in the military I was treated with respect by all the men I met with for meetings ranging from work with our local national engineers, contractors or government officials. I was in Afghanistan in 2010, American forces had been there for years and I guess had I gone earlier in the war I would have seen a different story. But the women who had blazed the trail before me and the men who worked with me set the tone for each mission.
The contractors knew they had to work with American female engineers to get paid and so they did. My female counterpart and I took the advice to not wear the head covering and never had anyone question our choice.
I did have high hopes that we would be able to do more for women while in Afghanistan. But just as we were not given all the resources we needed to do actual engineering work. We also did not have all the resources to successfully help women in need. My team did go to a women’s shelter once, but the language barrier required an interpreter who was male. We did lend a listening ear and I learned about true heartache and wished I could do something to help the women sitting in front of me.
A Woman Overseas
The women of Afghanistan are hurting and often unheard. The women I met in the shelter were there for protection and were fearful of what the future held. They wanted to go back to be with their husbands and families, but drug and alcohol abuse had forced them to look for another alternative.
The thing I won’t forget is the fear I could see in their faces. How could they relate to an American female who had no idea what it meant to truly struggle? It opened up my eyes to see real hurt in the world. A hurt that most Americans never see.
I probably didn’t do enough after that moment, but I have seen the power and importance of women.
I guess that is why I was so eager to start giving out KIVA loans to women overseas. KIVA is an organization who gives out microloans to people all over the world, including the US. Through these loans, people are given the opportunity to make a change in their life. It may help them start a business or expand one they currently have. My husband and I have been giving loans out to women. We have almost tripled our money with the repayments to give new loans. I know that women are the hope and the future and we empower them we can truly change the world.
Women can change the world. If we use our energy to work together and solve problems we can do something great.