Sunday, April 4, 2010

Paving the way

The room was filled with movers and shakers – generals, colonels, counter narcotics investigators, prosecutors, Drug Enforcement Agency leaders and judges. And me. Myself excluded, it was a powerful group of people gathered from all different backgrounds and life experiences, cultures and nationalities … in fact; one of the only things they had in common was their gender. That and these women were all there because they had achieved what they did in spite of great obstacles, and they wanted to make the path easier for the women behind them.

Facilitating the meeting of the minds was Brig. Gen. Anne MacDonald, NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan assisting commanding general for police development, and Michele Leonhart, acting administrator for the Drug Enforcement Agency. General MacDonald’s focus is police development and one of the big pushes right now is how to make the police force a safer, more appealing place for women to serve.

Earlier this year, President Hamid Karzai mandated that an additional 5,000 women would be added to the police force by 2014; currently there are roughly 1,000 women serving. Lack of familial support, corruption, cultural beliefs about men and women working together, low pay and dangerous duties are just some of the issues facing the brave few who choose to enter the police force.

Each woman got to tell a little about herself and her personal experience and as I listened, I heard the same struggle over and over again. Some, who were policewomen before the Taliban came into power, recounted tales of violence toward women, financial hardships and freedoms destroyed. Younger women spoke of lack of respect from male colleagues, lack of promotions and of being forced to administrative tasks rather than real police work.

Michele Leonhart shared some of her experiences first as a uniformed police officer, then as a DEA agent. Like the other women at the table, she had her own challenges to face as a woman police officer in the 1970’s: low numbers of women in the police force and negative attitudes from her fellow policemen and even their wives. But she made it to the top of her game and while I’m sure it was frustrating and difficult at times, something she said really struck me. She told the women that ‘it didn’t matter if you were a male or female, people are just looking for good leaders.’

I think that was something these Afghan women really needed to hear, to know that they weren’t alone and that while it may take some time, things will improve. I think it helped them to see that even in a country as modern and advanced as the U.S., women still faced similar attitudes and obstacles, and not that long ago. Their struggles are something I can’t even imagine, that I don’t have to imagine, because people like them and Ms. Leonhart, paved the way.

1 comment:

  1. Sarah, that was nice! i love reading your blogs, I'm so proud of you and what your doing. Keep up the awesome work, I feel as though your providing a invaluable service to the human race and you've opened my mind to things, I hope you have for others. I think everyone should read this stuff, I'm going to try to get the schools on board with this, starting with Alan's school,our youth needs to understand what's really going on over there, you don't hear anything on the news about it, we are kept in the dark here and spoon fed our sell phones and cars adds, the cure all for your troubles/ spend,spend,spend. It's troubling how this country is so out of touch with reality and we've all bought in to the DeHumanization process. It sounds like that's what it will take for us to finally unite as a nation for change, a total breakdown in our civil rights, but as long as we're kept sedated with new shinny toys and told being good is good enough, rather than striving to be great, we will never know what these people your doing so much for have gone, and are still going through. You are doing what you can and PLEASE don't stop! I love you Sarah and stay safe, we need you here too, more than you may ever know, god bless you and all your brothers and sisters.