Bagram hosts International Women's Day Published March 5, 2008 By Spc. Melissa M. Escobar 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Women's history month kicked off with a celebration of International Women's Day here March 3. This year, the Combined Joint Task Force-82, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Equal Opportunity and various Civil Military Operations sections sponsored the celebration, which consisted of speeches, a musical performance from an Afghan band and an Afghan fashion show. The theme of the celebration was "Investing in Women and Girls." While the U.S celebrates Women's History Month, International Women's Day is an official holiday held on March 8 each year in 23 countries across Europe, Africa and Asia. The holiday commemorates the economic, political and social struggles and achievements of women worldwide. The occasion recognizes the world's women and acknowledges their contribution to peace and security, according to the official International Women's Day Web site. IWD is not widely known in Afghanistan, said Massoud Hossaini, a local photographer with Agence France-Presse. However, Afghan women of influence have participated in events surrounding this holiday in previous years; women such as the Honorable Dr. Husn Banu Ghazanfar and Afghan National Army Gen. Khatool Mohammadzai graced the crowd of U.S. and French servicemembers, and Afghan visitors with their presence. Speaking for the Ministry of Women's Affairs, Ghazanfar delivered a speech on the progress of international women. As a lecturer, poet and writer, Ghazanfar gave insight into the struggles that Afghan women have faced and continue to face. Mohammadzai is Afghanistan's first female general and paratrooper in the ANA. With more than 500 jumps under her belt and a chest full of medals displaying her many accomplishments, Mohammadzai is a real-life representation of how women are gradually overcoming their trials and tribulations in Afghanistan. In a country where women have been suppressed and stricken with roles that keep them in the home, Mohammadzai has broken the mold and jumped, literally, into a man's world. "I am honored to be a part of this celebration and to be here in Bagram. I am proud to be here with my Afghan and international colleagues in celebrating this wonderful day. I congratulate the whole world's women and Afghan women on this beautiful and important day. This day is a sign that the women of the world are making huge progress," said Mohammadzai. The sense of importance on this day was felt by all who attended, women and men alike. "It's enormously important that we celebrate IWD. It's especially important to celebrate (IWD) in Afghanistan to recognize the contributions and sacrifices that the Afghan women have made, and the contributions and sacrifices of the women who have deployed here to support them," said Army Brig. Gen. Rodney Anderson, the CJTF-82 deputy commanding general for support. One of those women who deployed to support the nation of Afghanistan is French Maj. Angelique Esperance, a contracting and legal officer with the French forces. "It's a particularly important day today. Women have not had rights here and today it's a feeling of freedom. We can show the Afghan women that we can do anything next to men. Where I am from, we are equal to men and I hope that one day it will be the same here. I hope to see Afghan women take their place in society," expressed Esperance. Senior Master Sgt. Debra Plocki, with the 455th AEW from Robins Air Force Base, Ga., gave a speech on women in history. Plocki, who was born in the Panama Canal Zone, said she loves history and loves to read and understand where things come from, so it was fitting for her talk about women in history. "There's a sense of sisterhood, even with women across the world. I want to know what their life is like," Plocki said. While the crowd took a break to pile their plates full of chicken and beef kabobs, white rice and a double-layered chocolate cake designed with 14 national flags, a local Afghan band called Hamahang performed traditional Afghan music. Even though the six-piece band from Kabul was an all male crew, they knew the importance of the celebration for women. "I couldn't wait for this day. I am very proud to play on this great day. I wished for such a day in Afghanistan," said Jawaid Hamahang, the lead singer and keyboardist. He chose a song titled "Woman" to play for the occasion. The song describes the importance of women in a society and their roles as mothers and wives. With the conclusion of the band's performance, designer and Kabul boutique owner, Mina Sherzay, took the stage to introduce her Afghan fashion show. Sherzay, who was born in Kabul, moved to the U.S. in 1978 prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As a mother of two daughters, Sherzay would design and make traditional clothing for herself and for her daughters. In 2001, Sherzay made the decision to return to Afghanistan and open her boutique called AWWSOM (Afghanistan World Wide Shopping Online Mall). Although an accomplished business woman, Sherzay's goals were not met with the success of her business alone. "The whole purpose of what I am doing is to economically empower Afghanistan's women," said Sherzay, who has established the Afghan Women's Association and Afghan Women's Federation. Through her clothing and jewelry line, Sherzay said she hopes to open the world's eyes to the beauty of Afghanistan's culture, which would ultimately bring business from all over, to the women who create the line. With the attention of the crowd and modernized music playing in the background, U.S. servicemembers and Afghans modeled Sherzay's designer clothes down the runway. The designs ranged from traditional color-filled dresses to more modern earth-toned two-piece suits. "We use the best silks and jewels. We want to show the best quality, culture and history in the clothes. I want to promote through the clothing and jewelry that the (women) handcrafters create, the diversity of our culture. You can see in the designs of our clothing the different cultures; there are Chinese, Greek and Indian patterns in everything," Sherzay explained. "And, of course, it's the women who keep the culture. They pass it on to their daughters, from generation to generation." Spc. Erin Dotson, a cook with the 96th Aviation Support Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, from Fort Campbell, Ky., was volunteered by her battalion commander to be one of Sherzay's models. "I wasn't expecting to ever be dressed in these clothes but it's a nice honor," she said wearing a modern two-piece suit with traditional jewelry. "It's nice to get out of the kitchen and get involved. The clothes are very beautiful! And some of them are so modern, it's like stuff that you can find at American Eagle back in the states," said Dotson. "I plan on buying my jacket." At the conclusion of the celebration, Mohammadzai emotionally read a poem she wrote about the women of Afghanistan and the changes that they can make in its society.