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Italian Doctor Believes Reducing Domestic Violence in Afghanistan is PossibleTim King Salem-News.com
Psychology Professor Dr. Anna Baldry with the NMT-A team, knows they have a big job on their hands.
(SALEM / KABUL / NAPLES) - Tackling domestic violence in Afghanistan - what a daunting and mountainous task, a nearly impossible proposition in a land so ridden with violence and death and decades of war.
But efforts are underway to achieve this goal and Salem-News.com had the unique opportunity to contribute in a small way, in the preparation of an educator visiting Afghanistan for the first time, to address the DV problem; working with Afghan National Police in this sensitive area of training.
A few months ago, Dr. Anna Costanza Baldry, an Associate professor in Social Psychology at Seconda Università degli Studi di Napoli (University of Naples) in Caserta - Italy, and Senior researcher at Intervict, the International Institute on Victimology of the University of Tilburg, caught a report that I had produced about life for Afghan women imprisoned in a system that was seeing slow improvements.
It takes a world community to turn a problem like this around.
Preparing for her journey to Kabul, knowing that I had spent a couple of months there, she wrote asking if there was anything in particular that I could share to aid her journey.
One of my first thoughts was to connect her with Rick Lewis, the Police Chief of Silverton, Oregon, who for years had always gone to effort to accommodate my needs as a reporter.
The year before I left to cover the war in Afghanistan, Rick traveled to Iraq for six months to train the Iraqi Police in Baghdad.
The city of Silverton Website states:
"In April, 2005, Chief Lewis took a leave of absence to serve as an International Police Trainer in Bagdad, Iraq. He trained Colonels and Generals in the Iraqi National Police force from April through October, 2005."
"He received a Distinguished Service Award from the U.S. Department of Justice for his work as the Management Unit Team Leader and Executive Development Program Instructor with the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team (CPATT)."
When I went to Iraq to report from that war, Rick and I wrote back and forth the whole time. He is an outstanding individual and I knew he would be helpful for Anna's pending, extremely unique and dangerous journey, which by the way, is considered extremely successful. This is a story about the manifestation of incredible hope.
I have written before that the effort to raise the living standard for women and children, all people in Afghanistan for that matter, is tied to the ability of people to provide food and shelter for their families, as well as heat and medical care.
While she is encouraged, Anna and anyone else who has spent time in this place, understands that square one is being a realist, and everyone begins at square one. It takes an incredible love for humanity to choose to weather these conditions, and witness a system that is so brutally unfair toward women, and walk away from it feeling that there is hope. It is encouraging.
Upon her recent return from Kabul, I asked Anna if this first, successful trip, leaves her believing there is a real chance for change for Afghan women facing domestic violence and abuse.
"Yes, I believe that small steps produce a difference that in the long term might also be visible."
She believes that for now, women in Afghanistan can be perceived though not really fully seen.
"I think that even if there is one single woman who, after having gone to the police, feels she was supported, believed and in some ways helped, this will help another to have more courage next time. Someone has to start".
Cultural impairments of this magnitude are hard to see around. Iraq, Afghanistan, and several other countries in this part of the world, are nothing less than ancient societies. Some positive elements have lingered, but war and poverty and famine only brings out the worst in people.
I know Rick saw very serious things in Iraq, and asking him to consider Anna's best options would elicit no nonsense thinking.
"Frankly, Tim, I am both shocked and very pleased that she was so successful. I had some very serious reservations about her taking on this mission. She has my utmost respect for the work she did."
Women in Afghanistan have been subjected to all kinds of abuse, but possibly the very worst is the denial of an education, something that is changing for girls, at least in parts of this country. You have to remember that like other nations, Afghanistan is regional, and it is also tribal.
In Jalalabad I saw teen girls without burqa's walking home from school, but you don't see that at Mazur-e-Sharif. At the University in Kabul, I am told, women frequently dress in a more modern, western style.
I had the pleasure of spending part of an afternoon visiting with two older Afghan women in Kabul, who were both victims of violence that left them wheelchair bound. They were attacked during the years that the Taliban dominated Kabul. They were rare because they had been raised during the Communist years, prior to the Soviet invasion in 1979, and their culture did not involve religious persecution.
As a result, these women were not hesitant to talk to me (through an interpreter), nor did they dodge any questions, or hide their faces. They were very nice, and had seen a cultural whiplash in their lifetimes. Communism suppressed religion, the Mujahideen war against the Soviet set the stage for today's fundamentalist radicalized form of Islam, practiced by the radical set, very different from the average Muslim.
Rick Lewis was frank with me about his concern for Anna entering Kabul, and working with people whose view of life is frequently accepting of hostility toward women. But there is a way to work with people and reach them, and most of the men in Afghanistan are extremely kind toward women and children, because people are people.
"Probably the most critical points in my view are those concerning safety precautions, being up front and truthful at all times so as not to lose their respect, and watching constantly and gauging their reactions so as to know when that line may have been crossed. Also, I would say that it is imperative not to come across as trying to change their way of life and present in a way so as not to be viewed as a westerner trying to tell them how to live their lives. It is far more important to open their minds to new ideas without coming across as a threat to their existence."
Words of meaning and sacrifice, gained on the job, boots on the ground, driving through Baghdad during heavy months, working with Saddam Hussein's former top guards, training them to oversee the new Iraqi Police. I know a lot of people were relieved the day Rick flew home, and I knew his advice for Anna would be highly useful.
Anna says Rick's few but essential points were clear in her head as she embarked on her unique mission. One of the first things she cited was the fear of western ideas that threaten their centuries-old beliefs and, in some respects, their religious beliefs as well.
"He told me to try to avoid staying out from religious conversation, when it did come to the issue that the Sharia for them comes as their reference even above the other laws, my constant discourse was: you are police officers, nobody tells you you should not have your thoughts, beliefs, attitudes."
She also reminded the officers that they wear a uniform, and that they have to put aside beliefs or attitudes that might interfere with their role and what is expected from them, as a man representing their State.
"They liked this way of looking at the problem," she said.
I reported on 30 December 2006, how poorly the Afghan National Police were paid; they described their positions as near destitute, and talked about the high attrition rates. The educations of the vast majority of these men, is very limited at best.
Anna knew going in that these existing problems severely aggravate mission success and police integrity in Afghanistan, and that is not the only problem.
"Beside corruption is illiteracy, very high, low salaries, even if now they managed NMT-A (NATO Training Mission) to have the government double it, is their scarce consideration and professionalism, so in this way I was trying to convey the message, 'you can have a role, you have power to make a difference. A woman coming to you is expecting, or hoping this.' Rick also mentioned one thing; they will either give their 100% respect or they will hate you. And it is like this."
Success from an operation like Anna's can be accurately gauged by the students' reactions, and she was pleased to see the feedback at the end of the program.
Even the ones who said they would have preferred a male instructor were upbeat, she said, "All were so positive, 'need more', 'very good', 'useful', 'helped me a lot' etc."
Many changes are taking place, there is still too much instability. Rick Lewis says he is encouraged, but believes that the real futures of Iraq and Afghanistan are little more at this point, than a waiting game.
"In time, they will decide for themselves and if they are able to come to the conclusion that our ideas are the right way to go, then it needs to be their decision and not us telling them how they should live. We didn’t do all that well when we forced our western culture and ideas on our own Native Americans in the 1800’s. Right? This is no different and we could well fight wars over this in time if we don’t handle it right."
Is a European Approach Different?
Parts of Afghanistan are in upheaval, collateral damage is hurting the U.S. in the eyes of more and more Afghans, and questions keep emerging about whether or not the U.S. approach needs a detour.
I asked Anna if, based on what she knows, she had any thoughts on how Europeans may approach a process like this, versus Americans. "As a European I can tell you that yes, perhaps we are concerned about efficiency but are more flexible. If you want to reach a goal you might need to use another path, another method."
She says by the same token, whether it is EU or UN, it does not change the need for the intelligence to do things while maintaining the capacity to hear, perceive, and change. Anna says that with the correct, "intelligence, competence, skills and a supporting logistic team, you can dare a lot."
I've spent time around Italian, Canadian, French, German, Romanian, Estonian, British, Dutch, Mongolian, Korean, Iraqi and Afghan military forces in two war theaters.
At the time there seemed little question that most of the equipment used by other forces, ranging from the new British body armor, to the French and Italian military vehicles, was better than what the Americans had, and more logical.
It seems possible that a European approach to this unique problem just might offer the right finesse to get the job done. Rick Lewis however, believes little of that comes into play in the eyes of the people whose land is occupied by an international military force.
"I believe Europeans will need to take the same approach I recommended above. They are outsiders and 'westerners' in their view just like we are. They have centuries of wars with one another and in some respects they may even have more challenges than we do."
Interestingly, he also observed that the proximity of Europe is not helpful, they can be perceived as more of a threat by virtue of being neighbors.
"When all is said and done, Europeans will do well to remember that they are outsiders in the eyes of the people of the Middle East. They can be every bit as successful if they remember that and use the same approach I am recommending for us."
Anna says NMT-A and specifically CTAG-P (Combined Training Advisory Group-Police, lead by Brigadier General Burgio), is directly involved in the police training, and they were also in charge of organizing her recent series of seminars in Afghanistan supported by the Italian Foreign Affairs".
She says, "They have a strategic and efficient way at training the police. First point to quality beside quantity, and then train the instructors (which is what I primary did) so that they can train other police officers."
The purpose she says, is to make Afghanistan independent.
"If you simply assist them you are not transferring skills and knowledge and you will never end the problem, which is the approach that contractors have usually been having."
I asked Rick to share his thoughts about the possibilities for long ranging and meaningful success and improvements in the impoverished, war-ridden nations that abound on this earth.
"Your question about getting on top of issues such as those in third world countries is an interesting one. First I would ask if it is our place to try to change their culture. Perhaps it should be them doing that and our position should be one of expanding their knowledge base and encouraging them to have open minds on these issues."
In Anna's mind, the discussion about cultural history and religious values in this part of the world, hits a wall when it leads to abuse. "Domestic violence and violence against women has nothing to do with values," she said.
She says Afghanistan drastically needs to find alternative ways for men to maintain their role and power without downgrading women. While there clearly was success in her first rounds of seminars, there is no question that the program has far to go.
"I do not think we got anywhere yet and I hope there will be an interest and demand in going on in this direction. Let's wait, small steps to cross the desert, constant, by never giving up."
I know Rick and I both have come to greatly admire Anna, she is cut from a rare cloth, a rare and exquisite woman, unafraid of mixing her academic life with the harshest of real world conditions.
She said, "Sometimes I really get tired and I wonder why I can not be as all normal women are at my age, being satisfied and looking for certain and reassuring things. I get so much more from these I can share and give to others because I gain from them so much."
Anna has spent time in places like Gaza, where few even have the option of coming or going. I imagine she does it for the same reasons that most do, and it stems from a real, sincere desire to make a difference, and Rick shares that distinct quality without a doubt.
In Afghanistan, men who choose to be abusive, or are part of a resultant cycle of violence attributed to their own upbringings are in more than a general sense, within their rights to be abusive here. It is like 1950's America in that violence happens "behind doors" for the most part, but not exclusively.
Today in America and other western nations, domestic abuse is not tolerated, at least officially. The 1950's mentality is a thing of the past, and that means that even if it takes a very long time, life in this regard will also improve eventually in Afghanistan, but not without the efforts of people like Anna.
For some of us who go to the Middle East, something happens that is hard to explain, but this part of the world has a precious and endearing sense that really reaches you.
It is hard to explain, but gaining the simple understanding of how very similar we all are, in the most different of places, is a lifetime lesson in itself.
People are beautiful and friendly and helpful and peaceful. There are bad people, of course, and people who turn because western forces robbed them of a family member. But most are extremely pleasant and easy to like and respect. I know Rick had many of the same impressions.
"The Middle East is constantly on my mind. I study it all the time it seems. The experience I had there changed my life and, I believe, for the better. I have a deep respect for the people and at the same time, I am even more convinced that they need to change some of their customs. In time and with education and broadening of horizons, I believe they will come to recognize that as well. In the meantime, I believe we have an obligation to assist them in that effort without coming across as trying to dictate to them. I applaud Anna’s work and her success."
I have to say that as well as the recent report that attracted Anna's attention regarding a large, new women's prison in Kabul, I went inside the dead opposite of that, in otherwise sunny Jalalabad. It was an old prison from the 1800's from what I was told. It looked more like something out of the Middle Ages, though it was used until 2001. Everywhere in this place were signs of death. Bullet holes in the walls, a "killing tree" with hundreds of holes, a wall where prisoners were lined up and executed. It is a stark reminder of how things have been here in the past.
The light of modern day needs to do more than just shine through a rotting prison roof, it needs to deliver cutting edge advantages for a society that is literally starving for it.
I will stay in touch with Dr. Anna Baldry and keep our viewers updated on this important effort to improve the treatment of all people in Afghanistan, by raising the quality and consciousness of their national police force.
I do not think we can overstate the importance of properly training, equipping and certifying police in any society. If the wages keep growing, along with the level of training, and people like this rare professor from Italy keep participating, then it seems more than possible, provided that peace also eventually prevails, for Afghanistan's women to actually see a degree of justice.
Tim King has more than twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. Tim is Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. His background includes covering the war in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, and reporting from the Iraq war in 2008. Tim is a former U.S. Marine.
Tim holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing from The Associated Press the National Coalition of Motorcyclists, the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs, Electronic Media Association and The Red Cross In a personal capacity, Tim has written 2,026 articles as of March 2012 for Salem-News.com since the new format designed by Matt Lintz was launched in December, 2005.
Serving readers with news from all over the globe, Tim's life is literally encircled by the endless news flow published by Salem-News.com, where more than 100 writers contribute stories from 20+ countries and regions.
Tim specializes in writing about political and military developments worldwide with an emphasis on Palestine and Sri Lanka, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the U.S. Marines. You can write to Tim at this address: email@example.com. Visit Tim's Facebook page (facebook.com/TimKing.Reporter)
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