Roxanne Petraeus On Transitioning From Combat In Afghanistan To Leading A Startup That Combats Sexual Harassment

There are 17.4 million veterans in the United States, according to the most recent statistics of the U.S. Census. Of these 17.4 million, about 10% are women. Like the military, tech is also heavily male-dominated, with only 11% of VC partners being women and less than 3% of VC money going to female founders. One woman who understands the challenges of both worlds is Roxanne Bras Petraeus, a 34-year-old veteran who is now the co-founder and CEO of Ethena — a NYC-based startup that provides modern corporate training for sexual harassment prevention. 

Bras Petraeus grew up in Central Florida and studied Economics at Harvard, where she received a scholarship from the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). 

“Both of my parents had served in the military,” Bras Petraeus told me in an interview. “Even though I had never envisioned myself in uniform, I decided to give it a try.”

She met her future husband, Stephen Petraeus, in 2006, when they were both cadets at MIT’s ROTC unit. They were then commissioned as Army officers and served together in Afghanistan in 2010 under General Petraeus, Stephen’s father. 

“I really liked certain aspects of the military,” Bras Petraeus added. “The discipline, the physical components, the community. I also had a love/hate relationship with the military’s unique ability to get me out of my comfort zone.”

A Born Leader

Her military career took her across the globe. In addition to Afghanistan, Bras Petraeus worked as a Civil Affairs Officer in Cambodia and Mongolia, on projects such as training with non-U.S. militaries and disaster preparedness. In between her various military deployments, she managed to squeeze in a Masters in International Relations at the University of Oxford, where she was a Rhodes Scholar.

The capacity to learn, adapt and show immeasurable resilience during uncertain times are all traits that make great Army officers, but also great entrepreneurs.

“Given the chaos of 2020, one of the biggest military skills that I rely on now as CEO is leading during uncertainty,” Bras Petraeus said. “I served with excellent soldiers and officers who showed me that great leaders stay calm in crises precisely because they are such important moments, versus feeling like a crisis requires the leader to be loud and act impulsively.”

Bras Petraeus became the CEO of Ethena, which she co-founded with Anne Solmssen, in August 2019. 

Culture Change

The main purpose of Ethena, according to the founders, is to provide modern corporate training for sexual harassment prevention that is both effective and engaging, with a focus on culture change, not just compliance. 

“I had always found the concept of ‘check-the-box’ training to be strange,” Bras Petraeus said. “Why would we sit in hours of training that everyone knew to be ineffective? I saw this in the military and

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Women in War-Ravaged Afghanistan Fight Back for Their Rights

Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Peace, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations


Zarqa Yaftali is a women’s rights advocate from Afghanistan and Executive Director of the Women and Children Legal Research Foundation. She represented the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security at the recent UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security.

A family runs across a dusty street in Herat, Afghanistan. Credit: UNAMA/Fraidoon Poya

KABUL, Afghanistan, Nov 5 2020 (IPS) – Bullets, bombs, tyranny and torture. Children crying for food, civilians struggling to survive, women unable to walk out of their homes freely. When we are not under siege from bombs and landmines, ordinary Afghans suffer from hunger, natural hazards and poverty.

Every day is a war and every day people lose their lives. This is Afghanistan today – and a reality too many around the world can relate to.

The conflict in Afghanistan has taken a particular toll on women and girls. Over half the population lives below the poverty line and this has hit women the hardest. 70% of Afghan women are illiterate, 87% of Afghan women have already experienced at least one form of gender-based violence, 35% of girls are forced to marry before the age of 18, and women and girls are less likely to have access to quality health services and treatment, particularly in rural areas.

Women and children make up the majority of four million internally displaced people. All these issues have only worsened with the spread of COVID-19.

In addition, our civil society is threatened, harassed and attacked and no measures exist for their protection. In mid-September, the US Embassy in Kabul reported an increased risk for women, including human rights activists and women in government.

Despite these challenges, my people have also worked tirelessly to change this country for the better. Today, many of our girls can go to school without fear. We have heroes like Shamsia, the daughter of a coal miner, who came first in Afghanistan’s national university entrance exam.

We have a free media and a constitution that protects the rights of women and ethnic and religious minorities. Women are no longer publicly shot or stoned in Kabul stadiums, imprisoned in their homes or forced to wear burqas or shoes that make no noise, like they were 20 years ago.

Today, Afghan women are gaining respect and recognition as they begin to flourish in all walks of life, as doctors, taxi drivers and film-makers. Women in Afghanistan are also ministers, women who, under the Taliban regime, were deprived of the most basic rights to education, employment and freedom of movement. Today, they are in a position to influence policy and shape the future of our nation.

Much of this change is only due to the role women played in advocating for their rights over the past two decades. Women’s increasing participation in public and political life has changed harmful social norms and expectations around our role

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15 People, Mainly Women Seeking Visas for Medical Care, Killed in Stampede in Afghanistan: Reports

Wali Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Afghanistan stampede

More than a dozen people, many of whom were women hoping to receive visas to allow them entry into Pakistan, were killed in a stampede at a crowded stadium in Afghanistan on Tuesday, according to reports.

At least 15 people, including 11 women, died following the incident at a soccer stadium in Jalalabad, Reuters reported.

The victims were among thousands of people who’d gathered at the venue in the hopes of receiving a visa so that they could cross the border into Pakistan in order to seek medical treatment, according to the New York Times.

“The visa applicants jostled to secure their token from the consulate officials,” an Afghan official told Reuters. “The crowd got out of control, leading to a stampede.”

There were reportedly 3,000 people in attendance who had arrived before dawn to seek visas, as Pakistan recently announced that it would resume issuing visas at a more normal rate after limiting the number because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The consulate had reportedly been closed for nearly eight months, and only recently reopened.

Wali Sabawoon/AP/Shutterstock Afghanistan stampede

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“I stood in the queue all night but at some point, people got angry and started pushing,” survivor Farmanullah told Reuters. “Many of us fell on the ground.”

A witness named Abdullah told the Times that the incident began in the women’s section.

“Police arrived and the situation got worse,” Abdullah said. “I escaped from the stadium. When I came back, several women were lying on the ground and they were dead.”

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The Times reported that because Afghanistan has been plagued by war and does not have many medical facilities, many citizens go to Pakistan for medical treatment. About 3 million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan, and many make the move seeking work or medical care.

Only 1,000 visas were processed on the day of the stampede, according to the Times.

The Pakistan embassy in Kabul reportedly expressed “deep grief and sadness” over the incident in a statement.

Source Article

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Trump’s Afghanistan troop pullout plan leaves Afghan women scared for their rights, and their lives

If there’s a point of agreement between President Donald Trump and those on the left who favor a reduced U.S. military presence in the world, it’s that the war in Afghanistan should have ended long ago. Trump campaigned against U.S. military involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan four years ago and tweeted the same years earlier. In his 2019 State of the Union address, Trump noted that “great nations do not fight endless wars.”

No one has wanted peace more, sacrificed more or risked more to bring security to Afghanistan than Afghan women since the end of Taliban rule in 2001.

Now, as Trump’s national security adviser pledges that U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan will fall to 2,500 by early next year and while talks about talks proceed between the Afghan government and the Taliban to determine the terms of a possible agreement on power-sharing once the United States leaves, that rare American bipartisan agreement might spell disaster for the best allies the U.S. has had in security in Afghanistan until now. And those allies — Afghan women — wonder whether their rights to work and education will be able to survive the withdrawal of U.S. forces without a Taliban cease-fire and commitment to respect the gains women have made since 2001.

No one has wanted peace more, sacrificed more or risked more to bring security to Afghanistan than Afghan women since the end of Taliban rule in 2001. They have risked their own safety to fight for human rights, to work in local charities teaching agriculture and entrepreneurship and to serve in their government. They have broken norms, battled extremism in their own homes, fought for schools, served as journalists and dared to challenge traditions. All the while they have been peaceful and have argued for an end to the war between Taliban and Afghan forces.

Yet this most important voice is the one most often left out of the discussion as a peace deal is mapped out. That means that whatever is resolved between the U.S. and the Taliban, and then the Afghan government and the Taliban — the latter are now talking in Doha, Qatar, about rules that will govern talks about the shape of a future peace agreement — it is far from certain that the gains and autonomy of Afghan women can be maintained.

Before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan soon after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the treatment of women —stonings, beatings, the closing of all schools for girls, the banning of women from their own streets without chaperones — horrified much of the Western world and was a rallying cry for the need for change in Afghanistan, not just the removal of the Taliban for giving sanctuary to Al Qaeda.

Soon after the U.S.-led coalition arrived, the situation of women improved markedly as they reshaped their own communities for themselves. “Because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. They can listen to

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