Lessons from Female Engagement Teams


What are the lessons on what worked well with the use of military Female Engagement Teams (both U.K. and U.S.) and what were the main challenges?


Evaluations of Female Engagement Teams (FETs) used by the military to engage with women in Afghanistan that are available indicate that:

  • Female soldiers have had a deescalating effect as Afghan males generally accepted females being searched as long as it was done by other females.
  • FETs have had positive engagement with both women and men and were viewed as a kind of ‘third gender’. This gave them the advantages, rather than the disadvantages, of both genders: they are extended the respect shown to men, but are granted the access to home and family normally reserved to women.
  • The right training, support, and working conditions helped FET effectiveness.

However, very little independent analysis has been carried out. Unclear functions and a desire to be useful meant FETs engaged in a wide variety of disparate activities and there was a great pressure to report the activities of FETs as successful. This resulted in a tendency to cite everything FETs carried out as an achievement, without really understanding cultural dynamics.

The US Army Research Institute found that there is a lack of standardization of FET assessment, selection, training, integration, and employment procedures. FET soldiers and their officers identified a number of lessons from their experiences of deploying FETs. These include:

  • Assessment and selection: Rigorous assessment and selection procedures result in higher morale and greater mission success.
  • Training: Training in rapport building and influence, and language and cultural skills is useful. Physical fitness training helps FETs carry out their missions and integrate with other units.
  • Integration and employment: Emphasising the value and skills of FETs can help their integration. Units which recognised the value of FETs were more likely to include them in every mission. FETs who were used according to their training and had a clear purpose were motivated to deploy again.