Afghanistan's New First Lady to Take on More Public Role

On Monday, September 29, Dr. Ashraf Ghani was officially sworn in as President of Afghanistan in the country's first peaceful transfer of power since 2001. The inauguration also marked the only time Afghanistan's first lady has ever been mentioned in a presidential acceptance speech. 

President Ghani took time in his acceptance speech to thank his wife Rula for her support and to establish that she would have a more public role than first ladies of the past: "[She] has always helped internally displaced people, women, and children and I'm sure she will continue to do so," he said, adding that "women and youth will have a wide participation in my government.”

This is an unprecedented move in Afghanistan's historically patriarchal society. Former first lady Zinat Karzai was often referred to as the "invisible first lady" because she was so removed from the public eye. She faced criticism throughout former President Hamid Karzai's term for not doing enough to further the cause of women's rights in Afghanistan.

Karzai defended her lack of visibility in a March 2013 interview with BBC News: "I think more time is needed," she said. "This country has suffered from more than 30 years of war. We need to fix everything gradually, and work in line with our culture and traditions."

Rula Ghani, on the other hand, has been active and visible throughout her husband's campaign. She has attended numerous campaign events and also gave a speech for International Women's Day to a large female audience in Kabul. Ghani's public presence, further reinforced by President Ghani's inaugural speech, serves as a positive sign for continued progress toward increased women's rights in Afghanistan. 


Photo courtesy of UNAMA Multimedia

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