(CNSNews.com) – Few Afghan women are joining the Afghan National Security Forces, although female recruitment remains a priority for the United States, a Defense Department official told Congress.
“Improving the recruitment of women into the Afghan security forces, improving their status and treatment -- and improving the treatment of civilian women by the Afghan Security Forces across the country -- are a priority for ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), the Afghan security forces and for us, said David Sedney, a deputy assistant secretary for defense.
Sedney, testifying last Thursday before a House Armed Services subcommittee, said the number of women in the Afghan National security forces continues to fall far short of female recruitment goals, which were set by the Afghan government, under pressure from NATO.
“Those goals are not being met right now,” Sedney told the panel. “It is very hard right now to recruit women into the Afghan forces, and our advisers who work with the Afghans who are doing that say the biggest obstacle is family pressures.”
Sedney said he understands anecdotally that younger Afghan women are showing a “greater and greater interest in joining both the army and the police as they have come up through the educational system over the last 12 years.”
Quoting from a December 2012 progress report on Afghanistan, Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) said there are 379 female members of the Afghan National Army (only a fraction of the goal of 19,500) and 1,455 female members of the Afghan National Police (the goal set by President Hamid Karzai in 2010 was 5,000 policewomen by 2014).
While those numbers are "paltry," Rep. Andrews cautioned against being “unduly pessimistic about that.”
He reminded the committee that the U.S. Army waited 172 years before commissioning its first female officers and 194 years before making a woman a general.
Andrews said he’d like to see American military women – “who have learned the ropes in a very tough environment” -- help Afghan women learn how to get along in a male-dominated military culture where women are not expected to work outside the home.
“A woman who’s risen to lofty positions in the U.S. military has to have something pretty special about her, because she’s come through an institution that frankly over the years has not been all that hospitable to the tradition of female leadership. So a women who makes it in the U.S. military, by definition, I think is a strong and capable woman.”
Andrews said he’d like some of those American women to be assigned to help Afghan women, not just in the military but also in other aspects of Afghan society.
The Defense Department’s Sedley told the panel that Afghan women who enlist in the Afghan army and national police are “proud to serve,” yet they “continue to face discrimination” in a male-dominated society where violence against women is part of the culture.
“Across the Afghan Security Forces, there are policies and programs in place that attempt to address harassment and violence against women, but they depend on implementation, and many times that implementation is almost always on the part of men who are not yet fully committed, and it remains a big challenge. But we are there, and we are working on it,” Sedley said.
The April 25 congressional hearing focused on protecting Afghan women during the "transition," when the Afghan people take charge of their own security and U.S./NATO involvement in the 11-year-war comes to an end.
The best way to protect Afghan women, the lawmakers agreed, is to make them part of the institutions that run the country, the military included.
Subcommittee Chair Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) said what happens to Afghan women after the U.S. troop withdrawal in 2014 is one way to measure the success or failure of the entire war effort:
"The reason this is so personal to me is because I am a wife and a mother. And I've had the right and the privilege in this county -- this free country -- to pursue an education, career and public office. And I don't want Afghan women to face a future where their successes and security is jeopardized -- all while keeping in mind, what happens to these women and these little girls, again, is the litmus test to what's really happening in that country, which in turn translates to the effect that it will have on our national security here at home. And...if Afghanistan reverts to the Taliban's control...these women will absolutely suffer, and I believe that it will happen virtually overnight.
"As the United States continues to work with the government of Afghanistan to determine the future size and role of our forces, the continued promotion and protection of the right of Afghan women and girls must not be forgotten or pushed aside," Robey said.