I spent several hours this morning at a shooting range interviewing recruits for the Afghan National Police at an old Soviet military training ground. The unusual part about the assignment: all the aspiring police officers are women.
After hitting her target 38 out of 40 times – to a rich round of praise from her Afghan and Italian trainers – one candidate clasped her hands above her head in a sign expressing the sheer joy of personal triumph. She has six children at home and a husband who cannot work. She could not be more proud of serving her country and helping to support her family. And she could not be hungrier for further opportunity.
The sharp-shooting policewoman is just one of so many tough, ambitious and inspiring Afghan women I have gotten to know since making my first trip to the country in 2005. I have had the privilege of meeting community leaders who teach women how to read, midwives who keep women healthy, medical doctors who worked throughout the civil war and Taliban years, and entrepreneurs creating jobs and growing their economies. Among the most memorable interviews I have ever had was a young girl now flourishing in school who was rescued from an arranged marriage to a man in his forties. She is 11.
What these intrepid women and girls have in common is a relentless desire to make the most of every opening, including the international community’s arrival in their country nine years ago. Far from one-dimensional victims shrouded in blue, these women are resilient survivors who are fighting each day for peace, stability and a chance at something better for themselves and their children.
As investments go, I cannot imagine a better one.
Read more of Gayle’s reporting from Afghanistan in The Daily Beast.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is author of the upcoming book The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, which brings readers the story of an Afghan girl whose business created jobs and hope for her community during the Taliban years. In 2004, she left ABC News to earn her MBA at Harvard, where she began writing about women entrepreneurs in war zones including Afghanistan, Bosnia and Rwanda. Her reporting on entrepreneurs in these countries has been published by the New York Times, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, CNN.com, and the Daily Beast as well as The World Bank and Harvard Business School. She has served as a Fulbright Scholar in Spain and a Robert Bosch Fellow in Germany. She speaks German, Spanish, French and basic Dari and lives in Los Angeles, California, where she spent the last several years working at the investment management firm PIMCO while finishing The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.