WINCHESTER, Va. - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Division commander, Brig. Gen. Kimberly Colloton, joined a virtual panel of distinguished guests for an important conversation on women’s gains in Afghanistan, the critical role of Afghan women in Afghanistan’s peace and security, and the role of U.S. organizations in partnering with and empowering Afghan women. The Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center partnered with the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council and the American Council on Women, Peace and Security to host this live event virtually on Jan. 7, 2020.
“It’s a true honor to set the scene for this discussion about the status, future and gains that Afghan women have made in the past two decades,” Said Damon Wilson, Atlantic Council Executive Vice President.
His welcome remarks underpinned the importance of an inclusive peace process and the Atlantic Council’s commitment to Afghanistan and Afghan women.
“We will focus in particular on economic empowerment and implications for peace with an extraordinary line up of panelists,” Wilson continued.
“The Atlantic council, for its part remains deeply committed to engaging with and supporting Afghanistan period. And especially to support an inclusive peace process that insures that Afghan women are seen as central to the country’s future. This is a key focus of the South Asia center’s work, which organized today’s program.”
As commander of the Transatlantic Division, Colloton oversees a broad range of infrastructure projects throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, including Women’s Participation Program projects in Afghanistan, which provide infrastructure solutions to support women’s participation within the Afghan National Defense Security Forces. Colloton also served on the ground as commander of the Transatlantic Division’s Afghanistan District from August 2017 to June 2018.
In addition to Colloton, the speakers included Ambassador Kelley E. Currie, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues; H.E Ambassador Roya Rahmani, Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States; Ms. Connie Duckworth, Founder and CEO Emeritus of ARZU Inc. and Strategic Advisor of Turquoise Mountain; and Ms. Razia Jan, Founder & CEO of Razia’s Ray of Hope Foundation.
Ambassador Paula Dobriansky, a member of the Atlantic Council board, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belford Center, and a longtime advocate and champion for Afghanistan and Afghan women in particular, moderated the discussion and posed questions to the panelists.
“What was it like for you to use your professional skills to craft specific infrastructure to help Afghan women have the same opportunities that you have had as a U.S. military officer?” Dobriansky asked Colloton.
“This has been one of the most personally and professionally rewarding bodies of work I’ve had the opportunity to get to do,” Colloton answered. “As a woman, as a Soldier as an engineer, and over 30 years during my career working in military and different environments, it’s been very male dominated. But I would say that both males and females alike have opened doors for me or encouraged me to open them for myself,” Colloton continued. “Working in Afghanistan has been an opportunity for me to use my skills and abilities to hopefully open doors for the women in Afghanistan.”
The Transatlantic Division’s Afghanistan District has been working on women’s specific projects since 2015, completing 27 projects with three significant projects still underway. These projects provide secure living quarters and support facilities such as laundry facilities, office and administrative space and dining facilities for the women of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police, including features such as playgrounds and day care rooms to support their families.
“One of the barriers to getting women into the workforce is not having solutions for childcare,” Colloton explained. “And I think being able to provide a facility that includes that is critically important to taking down some of that barrier to being able to participate.”
“Women are one of the most powerful forces for change in the world and we are proud to be a part of the integration of women into vital roles in Afghanistan’s security sectors, enabling women to join the work force and contribute to their country’s economy,” Colloton said.
Rahmani, discussed how the gains that the women have made over the past two decades since the Unites States intervention are defining what peace and security means in Afghanistan.
“The role of women, their gains, are a defining factor to what peace and security would mean today and will mean in the future,” Rahmani said. “Economic empowerment of women is critical to economic development. And economic development is critical to peace and security.”
“Women’s economic empowerment is especially important because it can increase countries prospect for growth by altering spending patterns in ways that benefit the whole of society,” Rahmani explained. “Women tend to reinvest their income into human capital development, which is going to uplift the entire society.”
“It has been a cooperation and a collaboration of many teams. The efforts and our successes have been because of the demonstrated power of persistence, reinforcement, teamwork and the joint commitment of over 38 countries, including the U.S. that comprise NATO’s Resolute Support and the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan in partnership with the government of Afghanistan. And I think that teamwork, togetherness, has made many things happen.”
Afghanistan’s first lady Rula Ghani and NATO Commander General John Nicholson launched the construction of the Afghanistan District’s largest ongoing project, Women’s Police Town in Kabul, in April 2018.
The first phase of the Women’s Police Town, expected to be completed by 2021, will include ten apartment buildings to house three hundred Afghan National Police women and their families. This project will be a separate, secure housing complex next to the existing male Police Town, and will include a daycare center, an elementary school, a women’s medical clinic, a fitness center and a community center. The government of Afghanistan will manage the daycare center and elementary school.
“Women’s Police Town will build on the progress made over the past two decades to further gender equality in Afghanistan,” Colloton explained, “particularly in the areas of education and employment by helping reduce another of the critical barriers that deter women from joining the police, the lack of secure housing.
Phase two, scheduled for completion in Aug. of 2022, will add two five story family housing buildings, a primary school and additional daycare rooms, entry control points, and a visitor center to accommodate visiting women police officers.
“Our stakeholder in these projects, CSTC-A, has been the conduit for security assistance and continues to ensure ministry officials are empowered, and that there is additional research, planning and accountability throughout the budgeting, approval, procurement and turn over process,” Colloton explained. “It is important that we continue to ensure the end use of these facilities is enforced and that there continues to be a focus on developing women’s education and skill levels so that they can not only serve, but lead in the ANDSF.
“The Transatlantic Division looks forward to continuing to implement infrastructure enhancement projects for women in the ANDSF and initiatives that promote the meaningful participation of women in securing their own country and remains committed to the principles of women’s equal participation,” Colloton said.
Dobriansky closed out the discussion thanking Colloton and the other guests for their continued support and efforts on behalf of the women of Afghanistan.
“This is a very esteemed group of women who have dedicated themselves to the future of Afghanistan and who are engaged in a hands on way in advancing the kind of gains that Afghan women have made. All of you have done phenomenal work and your voice has made a difference.”