According to FM 3-24, the population is the center of gravity for COIN operations. Afghanistan‘s population is roughly half female, half male, but in Afghanistan, the culture segregates by gender. As such, the appropriate operational response that is culturally sensitive to that segregation is to interact male to male & female to female. We want to understand 100% of the community by engaging them directly (Figure 1). By doing so, we get the insight that we need, while being respectful of the culture, yet building the fundamentally essential social contracts founded on trust and established in a cooperative environment. That social contract needs to be with the male and female population…both of whom are making decision about the future of this country, whether publicly or privately. ISAF forces are currently making decisions along all lines of operations that affect the entire population but with limited insight or perspective from the female half of the population.
The purpose of this document is to outline the role of female engagement on the ground and best uses of female engagement initiatives. While existing academic literature on females in Afghanistan is limited mostly to the urban areas, it is evident that the lives of women in rural Helmand are complex and difficult than is generally understood from open source and academic literature. Female engagement encompasses methodical, long-term outreach efforts to the entire population, men, women, and children, which is essential in a counterinsurgency. Such engagement efforts provide opportunities to connect with both men and women, counter negative Taliban IO efforts, and improve civil affairs efforts.
Complex operations often require the development of specialized teams with multidisciplinary perspectives. Examples of these groups include human terrain teams, provincial reconstruction teams, and, most recently, female engagement teams (FETs). These specialized programs are tasked with engaging local populations to ascertain information on civil-society needs and problems; address security concerns; and to form links between the populace, military, and interagency partners.