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MADISON - A team of gender advisors at Fort McCoy is leading the charge to make the base safer for Afghan women and children, as their stay at the base nears two months and could stretch longer. 

Sharon Feist, chief gender advisor for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, poses with a child’s rocking horse that was donated to the emergency child care facility at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. Feist leads the team of advisors that helps create safe spaces for the Afghan refugees at the base. © U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Caitlin Wilkins, 50th Public Affairs Detachment Sharon Feist, chief gender advisor for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, poses with a child’s rocking horse that was donated to the emergency child care facility at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. Feist leads the team of advisors that helps create safe spaces for the Afghan refugees at the base.

Sharon Feist, chief gender advisor for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and a member of Task Force McCoy, and Maj. Rebecca Brawner, Department of Defense gender and protection lead advisor at Fort McCoy, have been stationed at the base that is home to nearly 13,000 Afghan evacuees, to help ensure that the right resources are available for those who need them. 

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“It’s basically mandated that the U.S. military does this type of work, looking at the gender needs of men, women, boys and girls during conflict because the idea is men, women, boys and girls, and gender minorities experience crisis and conflict differently," Feist said in a statement. "Therefore they’re going to have different security needs.”

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The two have been evaluating the situation at the base, and looking at how government employees and military members can ensure women and children are safe. 

“Every day 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. “Different issues with pregnant women such as their access to resources, making sure they're getting prenatal and postnatal care.”

There already have been occurrences of domestic violence, with one such incident resulting in federal charges for one man. He was accused of striking and choking his wife in late September, who reported she had been hit, strangled, raped and verbally abused by her husband since arriving at the military base. 

Another man was charged with three counts of attempting to engage in sexual acts with a minor, while using force in one case. The victims were under the age of 16. 

The team is pushing for the opening of an emergency child care facility that would offer women and children on the base a safe place to stay. The facility could offer child care in emergency situations, like one that occurred recently on the base. When a woman went into labor, she had no one to watch her other young child. Feist was able to pick the child up from the hospital and keep him until the mother was discharged.

“We have a need for a safe space, '' Feist said. 

More: 22 cases of measles diagnosed among Afghan evacuees at Fort McCoy since September; 14 required off-base treatment

More: Two Afghan refugees charged with child sex, spousal abuse crimes at Fort McCoy

More: 'Now we're waiting': Evacuees at Wisconsin's Fort McCoy face health care issues, confusion over restarting their lives

The advisors are also starting to look at how winter is going to affect the Afghan evacuees, and what could help them fare better as the temperatures fall. 

"What ends up happening is more restricted movement, and oftentimes, we’ve seen this in the pandemic, when people are locked in you always see exacerbated tensions within the household and more domestic violence,” Feist said. “So 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.”

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 Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for at least 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible. This initiative provides Afghan evacuees essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Caitlin Wilkins, 50th Public Affairs Detachment) © U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Caitlin Wilkins, 50th Public Affairs Detachment 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 Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for at least 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible. This initiative provides Afghan evacuees essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Caitlin Wilkins, 50th Public Affairs Detachment)

The team is also working to address malnourishment issues among children. Many of the children arrived with nourishment issues — especially iron deficiencies — and are now struggling with the transition to an American diet. Doctors have recommended that the children have access to PediaSure shakes every day. 

In addition, the team is also working to ensure that the evacuees are getting help for their mental health, especially after the trauma many men, women and children endured fleeing Afghanistan. 

More: 'We didn't have anything': Fort McCoy Afghans describe losing it all, starting over in America

“Right now we’re moving more into steady-state operations and out of the early crisis operations,” Feist said. “We need behavioral psychologists because many of the issues we’re seeing are obviously physical security, people being safe, but then the trauma they’re feeling and just other issues they need help with.”

Long-term mental health care for the evacuees is still being developed, but in the meantime, the team of gender advisors are working on listening to what is needed, and what people think they'll need as they transition to totally new lives in the U.S. 

“In the future I really want to do more tailored outreach, holding little meetings, phone calls and ask, ‘hey how's it going, what are your needs,’” Feist said.

Laura Schulte can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter at @SchulteLaura

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Gender advisors are working to make Fort McCoy a safer place for Afghan women and children

Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/gender-advisors-are-working-to-make-fort-mccoy-a-safer-place-for-afghan-women-and-children/ar-AAPPCz5

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