Being a minority in the military is difficult in any nation. But for a woman in a conservative country recovering from more than three decades of war and five years under the Taliban's repressive regime, the challenges are particularly daunting. Afghan women joining the armed forces face discrimination and have limited access to basic facilities and the training, education, and promotion opportunities afforded men. Women also have to deal with harassment and belittling treatment by their peers, superiors, and civilians they see on the way to work.
For example, because of their affiliation with the Afghan National Army (ANA), two women were kidnapped by the Taliban en route to their homes during the Eid holidays. They were released only after the villagers convinced the Taliban commanders that the two were not in the ANA. (They were not wearing their uniforms and had no identification.) Another common problem is being left out of training and educational opportunities that would help them get promoted. Many young lieutenants complained that they are “invited” to courses only to be cut out at the last minute due to space limitations.
To air these problems and seek ways to combat them, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) co-sponsored a discussion in October 2013. CSO’s Larissa Mihalisko took the lead in organizing it. Eighteen female company-grade officers from the Afghan National Army met with the same number and rank from ISAF. The forum was the first one of this size, where multiple units and ethnicities could encourage one another and find solutions to common challenges. After outlining problems for several hours, the women still declared that they were proud to be serving their country and could never dream of holding any other job. They said that their primary wishes were to be able to feed their families and to receive the training and education funded by the international community.