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Profile of Afghanistan's Minister of Women's Affairs, Massouda Jalal

  • Carolyn Weaver

A woman who might be called a mother of her country visited New York City and Washington as part of the International Women's Day observances. Carolyn Weaver has a profile of Afghanistan's minister of women's affairs Massouda Jalal.

It was a week of meetings for Massouda Jalal, both with old friends and new allies of Afghanistan's post-Taleban government. Now in charge of women's affairs for the government of President Hamed Karzai, Dr. Jalal met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and First Lady Laura Bush, together with her counterpart in the Iraqi government, women's affairs minister Narmin Othman.

"This is a great pleasure to be with all of you this evening," Dr. Jalal said.

Massouda Jalal is a pediatrician who continued her work helping women and children during the Taleban regime - work for which the Taleban briefly jailed her. When the regime fell, Dr. Jalal became active in politics, and last fall ran for president in a country where only a few years ago, women could not even appear in public without a male escort. This is what she said two years ago.

"I am campaigning right now, I am going to the provinces, sitting with people, but I don't have money, I am not a rich person," she said. "But that doesn't mean that I shouldn't use my political right. I am independent, I don't belong to any party, or to any political organization of this country - that doesn't mean that I am not powerful. I have the good reaction of people; I have the perception and accepting of people with me. And that is real democracy."

Today, she says, security and resources are her country's challenges. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, with very high rates of infant and maternal mortality. But its laws no longer stand in the way of women's health and social progress:

"In the new constitution of Afghanistan, equality of rights of men and women has been incorporated. It is guaranteed. All the negative traditional practices have been stopped, which discriminated against women. And we will have 25 percent of parliament members [who are] women, in forthcoming Parliament. That is guaranteed in the new constitution of Afghanistan. So we have good values for women in the new constitution of Afghanistan," she said.

Unlike other Afghan political leaders, Dr. Jalal has never been connected to warlords. The mother of three children, she says her country, after decades of war, also needs a mother:

"I thought the Afghanistan people after the 23 years of many type of suffering, they need somebody to give them kindness, to give them love, to give them sympathy, to give them trust, confidence, and to treat their wounds, to give them easier life, to be helpful to people, to be honest to people," she said. "Somebody who belongs to the community, who knows everything, who experienced all the pains by [in] her bones, can come up and say that, well, I am here to provide you with what you need. So this was one of the stimulations for why I started struggling, and wishing I could gain their trust and their votes, to be able to sacrifice myself for their benefits and for their wellbeing, for making them able to use their rights fully as human beings, and to experience a better, easier life."

Will she run for president again?

"If the people of Afghanistan want, if the men, women and youth want, I want to sacrifice myself for them, whatever the need of the country is," she said.

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