At last week’s Officer Candidate School (OCS) graduation, I was amazed to listen to the carefully crafted messages that were sent in honor and encouragement of the women in the graduating class. The messages heard at the graduation were not just intended for the female cadets, but for a room full of their male peers who outnumbered them manifold. The MC made references throughout the ceremony that would resonate with an Afghan audience. He spoke of some of the first women recorded in Islamic history, and emphasized that they weren’t known as “daughter of” or “wife of” someone, but for the unique role that they each played in history. He talked about the importance of the Queen Bee in her society, and how she lived on while many other species had become extinct. He spoke of women who were known in the region because of their political connections, and noted that these women were making a mark on their own.
As the top scoring cadets went up to receive their certificates, I could see their hands trembling as they saluted their presenters, but their voices were forceful and confident as they repeated their rehearsed lines, turned to their classmates and proudly proclaimed their service to Afghanistan. Without even knowing them I felt proud of what they had accomplished. We’ve all had moments in our lives when we’ve stood in front of a group of peers and family who are watching us be recognized for something we’ve worked so hard for. To add to the pressure, these cadets accepted their certificates from some very senior officials from their government, including Deputy Minister of Defense Nazari, ANATAC Commander LTG Noori, and three female members of the Afghan Parliament. Standing in front of the women parliamentarians, I hope they realized that they had joined a group of pioneers of a slow but necessary shift in the role of women in Afghan society.
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