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Military deploys 'gender advisors' for Afghans at Fort McCoy

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McCoy Gender Advisors Photo.jpg

Maj. Rebecca Brawner, center, Department of Defense gender and protection lead advisor at Fort McCoy, talks to a group of Afghan women evacuees during a town hall meeting at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, Oct. 12, 2021.

The U.S. military has sent "gender and protection advisors" to Fort McCoy to handle domestic abuse, child care emergencies and the upcoming winter for the thousands of Afghan refugees still housed at the army base. 

The advisors hope to address gender-specific needs of the nearly 13,000 men, women, boys and girls at Fort McCoy and eight other U.S. military installations since the Afghan government fell to the Taliban in August, the military said in a statement. Gender advisors for the Department of Defense were created by a 2018 law that mandates the U.S. military to address the gender needs of people and minorities in war and conflict zones. 

“We realized that this is a perfect kind of deployment,” said in the statement Sharon Feist, the chief gender advisor for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. “What better place to help women and children and different gender needs than at U.S. installations hosting Afghan evacuees.”

The Wisconsin State Journal reported in September that some Afghan women at the base had faced harassment by Afghan men, many of them former members of the Afghan military. One Afghan man at the base was charged in federal court for sexually abusing two underage boys, while another is charged with choking and suffocating his wife. 

Such harassment and sexual abuse would be handled by these gender advisors, the military said, with personnel getting victims to safe places and coordinating with law enforcement. 

“Everyday there’s calls for domestic violence, mediation, trying to get victims to a safe place, coordination with law enforcement such as the FBI, the military police, and other agencies, child abuse, nutrition, and marriage,” Feist said.

Problems with abuse also impacts preparing the Afghans for the impending winter, said the military, where household tensions and domestic violence could worsen.

"We’re trying to prepare to help mitigate that by finding more recreational spaces that are warm, and not just for women to go into but men, too,” Feist said.

Other priorities for the gender advisors include treating chronic child malnourishment. Afghans have previously complained of the Western, often bland food served to them at the base.

Children already malnourished from their time in Afghanistan have struggled to transition to a U.S. diet, and military personnel have recommended a daily bottle of Pediasure for children under five. Other recommendations include opening an emergency childcare facility, though providing long term care at the base is still in its early planning stages. 

“It’s like an emergency respite child center,” Feist said. “Essentially, victims of domestic violence can come and have a safe place to come where they can be interviewed, and if they have children, the children are here and it's a safe space as well, that's really the intent of it.”

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