Jessica: Women make up 6% of the United States Marine Corp in Afghanistan. But female Marines are able to do something very few troops have ever done before.
It is part four of our series on ten years of war in Afghanistan.
Walking in body armor and under the protection of the Marines, we ventured into this Afghan village. Two years ago, this area was controlled by the Taliban, the islamic militant group fighting U.S forces. Villagers say some Taliban still live here.
We had no idea if we would be able to get what we had come for.
Right now we’re going to go inside and try to talk to the women. Cameras are usually not allowed. We’re going to go in, ask to use the camera and see what happens, but we may not be able to film inside of there.
We got the okay — a first in this village.
While Marines stood guard outside, inside the compound we were able to witness something that used to be forbidden in Afghanistan — women earning money.
Jewelry like this is an example of what the women make. It is sold at a military base and right now the Marines are handing out the money that these women have earned.
Under Taliban rule, women were not allowed to work. They couldn’t leave their home alone and they were required to wear something called a burka which completely covers the body and face.
After the U.S. invasion in 2001, women in big cities like Kabul were among the first to throw off the burka and get jobs. But here in the more rural and conservative south, many women are still prohibited from public life.
It is something I noticed walking through the village. There were no women outside, just men and children.
The kids are so friendly. They take your hand and just want to hug you. Once these girls reach puberty, everything changes. They cover up, rarely leave their homes and are not allowed to talk to male strangers. So, that is why female Marines like Staff Sergeant Lajuanne Baker have a special mission — to win the hearts and minds of Afghanistan’s hidden half.
Sgt. Lajuanne Baker: Even though they’re inside their compounds, they do see a lot and their husbands do talk. Their husbands have guests over, so they do have information. Having the chance to talk to them, we can find out a lot of stuff — what’s going on around the villages and the area. We have had women tell us the areas where Taliban have been gathering and we pass that on, so that way, we can check it out.
Jessica: As female Marines, Sgt. Baker and Sgt. Nalepka can talk to the Afghan women, unlike their male counterparts. They must first get permission from the men of the village. If it is granted, the Marines try to earn the women’s trust. It seems to be working.
Now that the U.S. has been here, do you think Afghanistan is better or worse?
“The U.S. started jobs here. The country is safe now. Everything is good now. We are happy now because of you guys. We are happy. It’s good.”
Jessica: But earning a salary makes these Afghan women targets of the Taliban. Anar Gul says Afghan women must take the risk.
Anar Gul: This is the opportunity. This is the breakthrough for women.
“I am a brave woman and I don’t care. I have to die at one time,”
Jessica: Critics say the U.S. is setting up these women to fail. Since the Marines sell the jewelry at military bases, the women are paid in U.S. dollars and can earn double the salary of the average worker. Critics argue the U.S. is creating an economy that will disappear once the majority of U.S. troops leaves Afghanistan. That is set to happen in 2014.
“If you guys leave, the money is gone. What will we do? There is nothing in this country.”
Jessica: What happens when the Marines leave and those military bases don’t exist. Where is that jewelry going to be sold?
“That’s what we’re working on — having women actually sell jewelry in the bazaar.”
Jessica: Will their husbands allow them to be in the bazaars?
“That’s an issue we did bring up, and we sat down with the husbands and they did agree on it.”
Jessica: If these women can start selling jewerly in the bazaar today, the hope is one day their daughters will be able to do much more.
“Maybe one day, I’ll join the army for Afghanistan.”
Jessica: Jessica Kumari, Channel One News.