Captain Lisa Irwin is a Territorial Army Officer, currently deployed to Afghanistan as a Female Engagement Team Commander. The second three months of her diary are presented here, covering January to March 2011.
14 February 2011
Today I went back to the village I visited at the start of tour as the Officer Commanding (OC) the company covering that area felt it would be ready to engage with the Female Engagement Team (FET). I went to attend a shura and to promote FET to key elders – however the plan backfired slightly as none turned up! Afghans do have a tendency to come to meetings when they feel like it and also to work to ‘Afghan time’ which for UK military personnel, who always work to the “five minutes before” rule, can be incredibly frustrating. The Afghan concept of time management is no surprise to me as I have also lived in Cyprus and the Cypriots adopted a very similar way of living- perhaps it is something to do with living in a hot climate!
I was beginning to feel very pessimistic about female engagement in this particular village as this was my third attempt at engagement with no positive result, but the Afghan National Police (ANP) officers at the police station where the shura was meant to be held were more than happy to sit and talk to me and the OC, resulting in us being there for 3 hours. The police officers were fascinated by my attempts to talk to them in their own language, and fascinated by my being female – unfortunately sometimes too fascinated as they did have a habit of talking to my chest not my face. I was, however, able to talk to some of them about their lives in the village and about the possibility of engaging with their wives in the future. Initially they were uncertain about the idea, stating that their wives didn’t need any help with anything, but I spoke to them about the Health Initiative and they seemed to be in agreement that it might be good for their women to attend training. Talking to them allowed me to gather information on their opinion of the government, local healthcare, schooling for girls and women ANP officers. To my surprise they were supportive of women joining the ANP (though in all likelihood not their women) as it would make female searches more culturally sensitive. There are female police officers in Lashkar Gah, the Provincial Capital, but I think it will be a long time before rural Helmandi women are anywhere near being able to join the police – or even want to. At the end of the meeting all the police men were keen to have their photo taken with me – quite disconcerting! I now have some idea of how it must be to be a minor celebrity!...
There is much more on the important work our FET heroes are doing, here.