To celebrate International Women's Day (Sunday 8 March) and the contribution of our Service women to operations in Afghanistan ahead of Friday's tribute service and parade, the Legion has chosen to reflect on a project created to look at the role of female soldiers on the front line in Afghanistan and their attempts to engage with Afghan women (The White Picture 2012).
Captain Anna Crossley served in Afghanistan in 2012 as a Female Engagement Officer (FEO). Although trained as a Nursing Officer and a member of the QARANC, Anna chose this highly demanding role and received language training before being deployed.
Her objective was to be invited into the homes of local Afghans and meet and talk to the women of the household, widely thought to be responsible for their children's education and the health of the family. Anna's aim was to interact with both male members of the local communities and the female population that is off limits to male soldiers.
Anna spent 6 months in Afghanistan in Forward Operating Base Oullette. It was her second time in the country and reflecting on her role alongside the soldiers in areas often considered the front line she commented:
"I was hot, dirty and dressed like a man but when I was invited inside a home I was always welcomed by Afghan women. It was a privilege to speak to them in their own language and experience their culture."
Captain Anna Crossley served in Afghanistan in 2012 as a Female Engagement Officer (FEO), spending six months in Afghanistan in Forward Operating Base Oullette. This was her second time in the country.
Deployed within the Upper Gereshk Valley Anna had the task of engaging with the local population in one of the most hostile districts of Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
"Being a female attached to the infantry is not necessarily a barrier. You have a different perspective and if you bring that alongside a variety of skills and the determination to work hard, you will be valued."
Anna sits in an armoured vehicle as the patrol head out of Forward Operating Base Oulette.
Anna puts on her body armour as she prepares to head out on patrol in the Upper Gereshk valley of Helmand Province. Whilst in Afghanistan this was the only way to access the homes of Afghan families known as compounds.
Anna interacting with members of the local community.
Often confined to patrol bases Anna would receive regular parcels from home. They would consist of anything from sweets to Rosehip tea and women's magazines.
Washing clothes was limited to a bucket and hose pipe.
Anna makes the most of the down time to train in the make shift gym.
In the evenings there was little to do apart from read.
Reflecting on her time with women from Afghanistan Anna said:
"The lives of Afghan women in Helmand is hard. They lack education, freedom and therefore equality with their male counterparts. Only the bravest women dare to challenge this way of life and risk their lives to make the female voice heard."
All photos copyright to The Royal British Legion / Alison Baskerville.
The White Picture - The Hidden World of Women in Combat was an exhibition of photos by Alison Baskerville presented by The Royal British Legion at the Gallery@Oxo in late 2012.
International Women's Day is a time to reflect and celebrate the role of women in society and their achievements in trying to create better lives for those in parts of the world where they live in poverty, violence and have limited resources.