Afghanistan has announced fresh initiatives to bring more women into the army, weeks after the country’s first female pilot sparked a national debate on insecurity and women’s rights by seeking asylum in the U.S.
The defense ministry wants to boost the proportion of women in the army to 10 percent, deputy ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanesh told AFP on Friday, confirming a slew of incentives including a special salary scale for female recruits. “At this stage, we have 1,575 Afghan women in our army ranks, it is mere three to four percent which is nothing,” Radmanesh said. “We are aiming to raise this percentage to 10 percent.”
Fifteen years after the end of the Taliban regime, gender equality remains a distant dream in Afghanistan despite claims of progress. In December Niloofar Rahmani, a 25-year-old pilot lionized widely as the “Afghan Top Gun,” announced she was seeking asylum in the U.S., citing fears for her safety and sparking a spirited national debate.
Rahmani became a symbol of hope for millions of Afghan women when she surfaced in the press in 2013 after becoming Afghanistan’s first woman pilot since the Taliban era. But with fame came death threats from insurgents and she routinely faced contempt from her male colleagues in a conservative nation where many still believe that a woman does not belong outside the home.
Her shock asylum bid triggered a storm of criticism in Afghanistan for “betraying” her nation but also garnered support from activists.
Radmanesh said there are 400 Afghan female recruits currently training at defense ministry institutions.
Afghan forces are beginning their third year of providing security across the war-torn country after NATO moved into an advisory and training role—and the toll on the local forces has been devastating. An estimated 5,000 were killed and another 15,000 wounded in 2015, primarily by the Taliban, while incomplete figures for 2016 show the toll was even worse.
Some 5,523 Afghan service members died between Jan. 1 and Aug. 19 alone according to a quarterly report from the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). An additional 9,665 were wounded during the period.
SIGAR’s full report for 2016 has not yet been released.