Last year, Army Captain Eric Olson (name changed) was appointed as a “Gender Advisor” to his six-person mobile observation team in Afghanistan. When Captain Olson’s team was asked to visit a makeshift girls’ detention facility, he was glad that he had a few good women with him: the driver, the medic, and an interpreter.
When they arrived at the two-story concrete home-turned-prison, he found four girls living in relatively decent conditions, and untouched. What he wasn’t expecting to find was a room full of boys under the age of 16, forced to live and sleep in a 6 by 11 foot room with 2 known pedophiles.
Because his team included a female medic, she could examine both the boys and the girls, and interview them separately. But because NATO’s international force in Afghanistan does not have legal jurisdiction over Afghan prisons, Captain Olson could not shut the facility down.
Instead, since Captain Olson was acting as a Gender Advisor to his country’s ground force and in touch with local women’s organizations and human rights groups on a regular basis, he was able to document the children’s horrific conditions, and he was able to find assistance from bilateral donors who fund anti-trafficking aid services in Afghanistan to step in. Through his position as a Gender Advisor, and Captain, he was able to remove the children to a safer place.
Captain Olson says, “Gender is one of the tools in my toolbox. I can bring a gun, but I can also bring other things to solve a problem.”