GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Ching Eikenberry, wife of the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, took part in a women’s panel supported by the Ghazni Provincial Reconstruction Team, March 7, in the Ghazni Library in Ghazni city, Afghanistan.
While her husband performed official duties and met with members of the recently inaugurated Provincial Council, Mrs. Eikenberry jointed a panel and discussed issues with and concerning local Afghan women.
The meeting included Shokrieh Vali, Ghazni Director of Women’s Affairs, and two lawyers from the Ghazni Provincial Council, a medical doctor, the Ghazni Director of Health Affairs and Mrs. Eikenberry.
Eikenberry sent two messages to her Afghan sisters and brothers. The first was the need to have women and men work together as a team and the second was one of communication.
"American people want to know what Afghan people, especially Afghan women, are doing, but they cannot all come here," she said. "So it is my responsibility to go back to the United States and tell the American people, especially the American women, what Afghanistan is actually like."
Eikenberry grew up in a conservative Chinese culture where women did not have the same opportunities as their male counterparts. However, her generation saw a shift in male and female roles, and she was able to break from that cultural barrier.
"My mother used to walk behind my father. I walked with my mother," she told a hushed audience. "My daughter walks in front of her husband." The quiet audience exploded with applause.
Her trip to Ghazni city occurred the day before International Women’s Day, an event that celebrates the achievements of women across history.
"First of all, you moved your international women’s celebration day to accommodate my schedule," she said. "And the men supported this idea. It’s a big sign of friendship; it’s a big sign of unity."
Her message of unity was also expressed when she mentioned her visit to the Forward Surgical Clinic on the Forward Operating Base Ghazni that morning. There she had talked to two fathers with injured children. Doctors were treating a ten-year-old boy recovering from a fractured leg and an eight-year-old girl that had been badly burned.
"They take care of their son and daughter every day," she said. "I asked them, so now you’re not only a father, but you’re also a mother. You take care of a child, how do you feel?"
The fathers told Eikenberry that these tragedies had given them the opportunity to care for their son and daughter, and that they had learned about being a mother and about their children. This would not have been the case if the injuries did not occur, since Afghan women traditionally care for the children.
While it was unfortunate that this happened to their son and daughter, it was very fortunate that it brought them together, she said.
"I hope we don’t have to pay that price learning about our wives, our husbands, our daughters, our sons."