In Afghanistan, we need strong men and women in leadership. We are happy that our new president’s wife, Rula Ghani, is well educated and has three Master’s degrees. This means she values women’s rights, girls’ education, women in leadership positions, and the struggle to end violence against women.

In fact, all presidents of Afghanistan have been married to well educated women. The main question is whether or not these first ladies worked in support of Afghan women. Our former president’s wife was a doctor, but I never saw her full face on TV. She is always filmed from one side. If I passed her on the street, I would not recognize her. This raises a question for me: If I cannot see the first lady’s face, how can I know what she is doing for Afghan women?

The same seems true for our newly elected president’s wife. I have seen Rula Ghani once on TV, on the day she went to vote in the first round of elections. She is educated and may have lots of dreams for Afghan women, but how would we know? We didn’t see her during the election campaign or in TV roundtable discussions. Afghan women wanted to see her and to know her ideas about women’s rights and other programs. I find it sad that our new president practices old traditions: not allowing his wife in front of the media, not allowing her to talk with the public in a free and democratic manner.

It is not a security problem at all. We all live in the same country, confronted with explosions and other threats but our leaders should not hide in their houses and give orders from there. They should be with people and appear in the public. I read again last week in BBC that Rula Ghani has decided she will do her work from the presidential palace.

Afghan women want to see a woman working in senior positions, working to end violence against women. We want a strong woman working toward change. We don’t want another Sitara to lose her nose, another woman to be raped, another woman to kill herself or set herself on fire because she doesn’t want to marry the man her parents have chosen for her.

We need a woman who represents all women and is willing to struggle for our rights. When we have earned our rights, we can find our own positions in society and support her in making further social, political, and economic changes.

We need Rula Ghani to have more than a symbolic role. She should not stay at home and give orders; she should stand beside her husband. Our new president is well educated and values women’s rights. He has always emphasized that women’s value lies first in their position as a woman, mother, and wife and that women have the same rights as men.

Nothing will change if we don’t change ourselves. Our new First Lady can prove this by showing her face, by asking Afghan women about their difficulties, and by becoming a public figure actively working for women’s rights.

By Asma

Photo: Rula Ghani on the grounds of the Presidential estate.