The screening of Afghan Army girls closed with a roaring sound of applause at Frontline Club yesterday evening. A first-time attempt by director Lalage Snow, also a photojournalist, the film beautifully weaved in stills and moving images to showcase the lives of women preparing for a life in the Afghan national army.
Prior to watching this film, not many would imagine that the progress in Afghanistan was such that women could be recruited into the national army. While this looks easy on paper, many would concede that steps taken in this direction have seen their share of difficulties with Afghan women facing security threats and constant pressure from family and loved ones.
Focussing on the lives of three girls training in the army, Samiya, Homa and Zeinab, the film captured their individual personalities following them on a ten-week training course to an isolated military base in Kabul and into some of their homes.
Anyone who is remotely familiar with Afghanistan news and culture would know that staying away from home is taboo for women, and that this is a big step forward.
One member of the audience questioned if and whether this has had any impact.
Snow said, “Lets not forget before the occupation of the Taliban, the Afghans use to employ at least 4,000 women into the army. Of course all this has been superimposed by ISAF and NATO lately in an effort to empower the women and the country.”
“All the training and classes take place in a compound. About the impact – I really don’t have much of an idea now. Of course there are higher generals who are women but they still need to develop a better sense of authority without being trampled over by their male peers, ” she added.
Many were curious to know about the reactions from fellow Afghan countrymen and women. Snow said: “In Afghanistan, not many women are aware that women are being recruited for the armed forces. There is not much publicity about it. Not sure if this is a move by ISAF and NATO to superimpose women’s rights on top of the agenda. Female soldiers are being recruited for the army and the police force to conduct searches.”
She added, “Can’t speak for all but many of the men-folk are progressive and want a future that is sustainable. They want peace and stability.”
While the film tackled many aspects of being a woman in the armed forces, many were still looking for answers as to what would happen when the international troops pull out
Snow said, “Well it is a mixed response; I have argued this over and over with my friends. Many think they would like the foreign forces to leave. Others think there is just going to be a civil war if that happens.”
One audience member had the room in hysterics asking, “So can the women shoot?” To which Snow replied, jokingly “No.”
As seen in the film, after graduation, no-one made it to the national army. “All of them were extremely proud and happy to have undergone this training except for one, Samiya,” said Snow.
While this has not led to a career in the armed forces, as most of them might have aspired for, it certainly has opened doors to careers in the Afghan Ministry of Defence and international justice.