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A Flight-Lieutenant from RAF Wittering's become the first female officer to undertake a special role engaging with Afghan women in impoverished desert villages.-->-->-->-->
'Charlie' Mee, who's 28, is working with US forces near Camp Bastion - the biggest military base in Helmand Province.
“For the first time anywhere outside the provincial capital of Lashkar Gar, we’re meeting and speaking with ordinary Afghan women to find out what their concerns are and what help they would like from us to improve their communities.”
“Because of the cultural restrictions Afghan women are under it’s been impossible for my male predecessors to engage with the females. Women rarely leave the family compound, let alone their local village. What I am able to do is meet and talk to the women here in a way that’s not been done before.”
Charlie, together with some American female medics and interpreters, recently got permission from male village elders to talk to some of their womenfolk:
“We were allowed inside the privacy of a mud-walled compound to meet women from a small village. We asked them about their health and found out what medical problems they are suffering from so that we can return soon with the right medicines to treat them.”
“We also asked about education and the women said they wanted it for themselves and their children but that it was their husbands who must decide.”
“The women, who live in the most basic conditions, are mostly either pregnant or have just given birth. They suffer from irritated skin and rashes, mild fevers, coughs and colds. Their level of knowledge about basic personal hygiene and health is incredibly low. They are not even aware that they need to drink water after childbirth in order to produce breast milk.”
“These women are providing a good snapshot of the surrounding area. The important thing now is to come back with the right medicines and to keep up the engagement process. In future we will try to hold more small meetings at regular intervals in different locations. Familiar faces are important – if the women to get to know and recognise us, trust will build up.”
“It is vital to engage with the women. Although they’re very restricted in society they hold a lot of sway in their own homes and in their own small communities. They can influence what the men do and in particular help form the opinions and actions of the young men of fighting age who might otherwise be encouraged to join the Taleban.”
Charlie is originally from Retford, Nottinghamshire, and now lives in Stamford close to RAF Wittering where her unit is based in the UK. A former pupil of St Peter’s School, York, she deployed in December for her second six month tour of duty in Afghanistan.
A keen sportswoman who has represented the RAF at cross-country, Charlie is a RAF Police Officer by trade and joined the military in 2002. She completed a tour to Basra, Iraq in 2005 and another to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2008, where she helped coordinate the training and development of Afghan National Police.
Her current job means she regularly meets with local Afghans – usually male - to find out what they need to make their villages better and safer.
“Of course improving the security situation is vital, but longer term it’s about building a successful, prosperous future for these people so they have the confidence to stand on their own feet, independent of the Taleban. Ultimately we’d like to provide schools, basic healthcare and alternative power, all run and maintained under the direction of the local elders.”
“Through building up relationships we also hope to learn more about this area; who lives here, who the leaders are, how they make a living and of course any potential links to the Taleban.”
“The most rewarding thing about my job is that I feel we are making a difference. These people have nothing but by talking to them we are finding out what they actually want and helping them to build a sustainable community. This is more than just charity, it’s about providing a successful future for these women and their families.”