NEWS | April 4, 2011

Marjah district governor meets with female elected officials, Marines

By Cpl. Katherine Keleher , Regional Command Southwest


(From left to right) Sharifa, Razia Baluch and Malika Helmandi, Provincial Council members from Lashkar Gah, discuss ways the government can help women in Marjah with Marjah District Governor Adbul Mutalib, April 2. Some of the ideas discussed included sewing classes, better schools, literacy classes and cooking courses.

HELMAND, Afghanistan (April 4, 2011) — The district governor of Marjah, Abdul Mutalib, met with three female members of Helmand’s Provincial Council and a member of the Department of Women’s Affairs, April 2, to discuss ways local government can help the women of Marjah.

Razia Baluch, Malika Helmandi and Karima, all elected officials with the Provincial Council serving four-year terms, and Sharifa, an employee with the Department of Women’s Affairs, flew to Marjah from Lashkar Gah alongside Marines from the Female Engagement Team 11-1, II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward).

When 1st Lt. Zoe Bedell, officer-in-charge of FET 10-2, I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward), and her Marines first arrived in Afghanistan in September 2010, Marines and Afghan National Security Forces were still freeing Marjah from insurgents. Over time, coalition forces and the ANSF gained the upper hand. Now, as FET 10-2 prepares to leave Afghanistan and FET 11-1 is poised to take over, Bedell feels confident that Marjah is heading in the right direction.

“This is huge. Out here [in Marjah last year], this would have never happened,” said Bedell, of Markham, Va. “Seeing the way Marjah is now, with women shuras and the progress women have made here, is amazing.”

Almost immediately after the government officials and FET Marines met, the government officials went to a women’s clinic where three Marjah women were elected as representatives to the local district government. These women were chosen to stay in contact with Mutalib to discuss concerns the women of Marjah are frequently encountering, to include opportunities for employment.

“It’s hard because the opportunity hasn’t been present for women to open their own businesses,” Mutalib said. “The women are interested in opening an information center, where they can learn skills to work. I want to work to open this center.”

Particular skills proposed for women to learn were cooking, farming, sewing, teaching and nursing.

Mutalib explained that there are currently 30 women in Marjah volunteering as midwives. Marjah’s government is working on a way to pay these women, hopefully prompting more women to take up the trade.

The group of government officials and Marines also talked about providing general education in literacy.

“The government can play an effective role in this by encouraging women to go to school,” Baluch said. “When they go to school they can learn to read and write. They can also learn about the Koran and Islam. I think this will work because girls used to go to school in Marjah. But the Taliban were bad, especially for women. And they scared them out of going. Now Marjah is much better. And with an education, the people of Afghanistan can stop the Taliban alone.”

The local FET, consisting of five Marines, two medics and two linguists, will also help women in Marjah by assisting with their needs and desires.

“We’ve been working on getting a lot of face time with the women here,” said Cpl. Hadassah Jurich, a team leader with FET. “We want to let the local populace know we’re here for them to go to for any ideas or problems.

“Right now we’re trying to get 30 sewing machines in Marjah. If the idea gets approved, we’ll give the machines out. It’ll give the women around here a way to make an income,” added Jurich, of Saint Croix, Virgin Islands.

Everyone agreed the day was a huge success.

“It was a big deal to go connect with the district level governments,” said Bedell. “It proves that we’re slowly helping the Afghan populace, and that the lower levels of government can also help these women.”