Afghan women train to ‘knock out’ gender discrimination

  • 06 Jun. 2012 -
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  • Last updated: 14 Jun. 2012 10:58

Peering intently over the pair of the boxing gloves, the Afghan soldier suddenly lashes out with a fierce a left jab into the pad held by a Canadian advisor teach the basics of self-defense. Ordinarily, such army training would be viewed with a shrug, not meriting a news reporter’s time and effort.

The story takes on significance, however, when one considers that more than a decade ago the soldier in question would not have been wearing a uniform—much less boxing gloves—but, instead, would have hidden from view beneath a burqa.

She is part of a small but growing band of women who have joined the military as a means of helping to change the roles of women in the nation.  They are called Malalai, or the Female Training Battalion (FTB) and upon graduation from the Kabul Military Training Center (KMTC), they will become officers in the Afghan National Army (ANA).

“Hand-to-hand combat teaches the women to react in the moment without a weapon and not to back down,” said Captain C.J. Farrell, one of the coalition advisors to the unit.  “It can simulate fighting in a small space and helps develop skills they may need to subdue foes rather than kill them.  The women of the ANA are especially placed in a vulnerable situation so the ability to defend themselves is a must.”

Physical training has always been included in the 20-week course, but the introduction of defensive skills is a relatively new part of the physical training.  A crucial element in the training is simply building the confidence among the women who, throughout most of their young lives, have carried on submissively within the Afghan society.

Farrell is part of a female advisory contingent that includes Jordanians, a British captain and two U.S. Marine non-commissioned officers. “With the Marines, teaching the self-defense techniques runs the full gamut,” she stressed.  “They not only learn the proper stance, but also what it is like to hit and to be hit.  And guess what?  They like it.  Some days it feels like they can’t get enough of the training.”

Lt. Kubra, one of the candidates at FTB exemplifies the change in attitude and the growing confidence, according to Farrell. “You can see it when she and Holloway, one of the Marines spar in the training. Of course, she hasn’t developed the proficiency, but her determination and enjoyment can’t be denied.”

Farrell also noted that building their confidence is not only critical to developing leadership skills among the female soldiers they eventually will command, but is a building block to help build respect with their ANA male counterparts – something that also needs to be cultivated.

The confidence building that this kind of training imparts to them is something not only fundamentally necessary for armed forces members, but could be vital to the survival of these female ANA members and the survival of the female gender within the ANA.”

NTM-A is a coalition of 38 troop-contributing nations charged with assisting the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in generating a capable and sustainable Afghan National Security Force ready to take lead of their country’s security by 2014. For more information about NTM-A, visit