Story and photos by U.S. Marine Cpl. Meredith Brown
NOW ZAD DISTRICT, Afghanistan – The Now Zad District Women’s Center in Helmand province, Afghanistan officially opened for business during a ceremony at the facility, Jan. 11. More than 100 local women and children attended. The center offers a safe place for the local women to congregate and work.
Female Engagement Team 2, out of Forward Operating Base Now Zad, led the effort to open the women’s center. Some renovations were needed to the compound in order to provide a positive and safe environment for the women to use the center, so the engagement team worked closely with the FOB’s civil affairs group and other agencies to get the facility up and running.
As an added incentive to use the center, sewing machines were purchased with civil affairs funds for the women to use, explained Sgt. Kathryn Comfort, Female Engagement Team 2 member. This allows the women to sew and make jewelry for their families and to sell at the local bazaar. Due to cultural restrictions, especially in rural areas of the province, women do not typically work outside their homes.
As a means of generating interest in the center, encouraging gatherings and working toward a sustainable future for the local women, three influential female leaders from Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, spoke during the ceremony.
“(The women from Lashkar Gah) already have a women’s center and gather and they’re very progressive and educated,” said Comfort, a native of Southland, Mich. “This was an opportunity for the women to come and talk to the women of Now Zad, who aren’t as educated or think that they can’t do things like work outside the home. They are basically telling them that it’s okay you can still be a devote Muslim woman and work outside the home.”
The Now Zad district governor, Saied Mourad Sadatalso, attended the event and toured the facilities. Additionally, two Afghan media representatives provided photo and video support for the occasion.
While the women met inside the compound, Marines with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment and the Afghan National Police teamed up to post security in the area surrounding the compound.
“We’re just trying to make a way where these families can sustain themselves,” said Comfort. “We’re really relying more on the local security forces to provide security for these women to come and gather. We’re trying to make it Afghan-run.”
“(The center’s opening) was a textbook example of civil affairs, FET and battle space owner integration, as well as integrating the District Stabilization Team,” explained Capt. Michael Petit, civil affairs team leader at FOB Now Zad.
“The battle space owner managing the security line of operation coordinated with Afghan National Security Forces to provide a secure environment. Civil affairs supported the female engagement team, while supporting the socio-economic development loo. Lastly, you had the (District Stabilization Team) involved in the governance line of operation. They worked with the (U.S.) State Department to obtain a grant that was used for the opening ceremony and they also worked with the local Afghan government officials to ensure that they are aware of and supportive of this event.”
The center’s opening ceremony wrapped up with a luncheon for the attendees.