Marine FET's Bridge Gap Between Western, Afghan Culture
In today's fighting military, and especially in the Marines, women serve a greater role than just another body on the front lines. In Afghanistan for instance, a special team of women whose mission is community outreach, especially bridging the gap between our culture and that of the Afghan culture, which is generally tougher on women.
This specialized team is called the Female Engagement Team (FET), and is obviously a media darling when it comes to stories about women on the front lines of war. However, their jobs are much more than being part of the fighting force, in fact, they aren't part of the fighting force at all. Instead their full-time positions entail helping to amplify the voice of Afghan women.
Take Sgt. Meredith Burns, the team leader of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment's Female Engagement Team. A reservist working in civil affairs, took the job as a special assignment. When asked to explain the job she didn't have a clear definition. "Like a community organizer? A negotiator, a fund-raiser? There are so many aspects of this job; it’s not just one thing. There is no one civilian job I could compare it to."
Since the FET has been on the ground in Afghanistan, the daily struggle is to overcome not only the cultural gaps between ours and theirs, but also the disparity between men and women within the Afghan culture. However, the FET is making headway. In the Nawa District, where the 2nd/3rd is posted, there have been marked improvements in the treatment & opportunities for women. For instance; they have convinced locals to open schools for girls. Women have starting their own businesses, from selling poultry to clothing. Women have begun to come forward during conversations about government assistance, to open a better dialogue between the women of the province and their local government.
Armed with shampoo and other beauty products, Burns and her team head into villages every day in order to open a running dialogue with the women there. It's a tricky road, as there is a lot of indoctrinated suspicion towards the American forces in Afghanistan. Burns is hopeful that change will take place over time; "Islam, from what we’ve heard from our linguist and people around, requires that men and women are equal, so we bring that up. If you’re sending your boys to school, you should be sending your girls.”
Source: U.S. Central Command