Is Afghanistan ready for a high-profile first lady?

Rula Ghani was lauded by her husband as he took the stage to be sworn in as Afghanistan’s president. Does this mean that the era of “invisible first ladies” is over? – writes Harriet Alexander

Afghanistan‘s inauguration of its new president was as historically-heavy as it was politically pivotal: the first ever democratic transfer of power, and the first time an incumbent ruler had stood aside peacefully.

 It was also the first time that Afghanistan was introduced to its first lady.

Rula Ghani, the wife of Dr Ashraf Ghani, was praised from the podium during Monday’s inauguration ceremony, in comments which were seized upon on social media.

“Dr Ghani thanks his wife Bibi Gul (Rula) for her support. For me one of the best part of his speech,” said Shafic Gawhari, the Afghan CEO of media empire Moby.

Mujib Mashal, an Afghan journalist, tweeted: “Another big step in president @ashrafghani’s speech was taking the time to thank his wife Rula, by her adopted afghan name Bibi Gul.”

While Harun Najafizada, the bureau chief for BBC’s Persian service in Afghanistan, said: “Rare moment! Love for wife: Ghani gets emotional when recalls his wife Bibi Gul’s support! Afghan men have to learn from it.”

The mention of Mrs Ghani gave rise to hopes that Afghanistan could finally have a woman playing a leading part in the country’s social and political fabric.

Mrs Ghani, a Lebanese-American Christian, met her husband when they both studied at the American University in Beirut in the 1970s.

Dr Ghani, one of Afghanistan’s best-known intellectuals, spent almost a quarter of century abroad during the tumultuous decades of Soviet rule, civil war and the Taliban regime. During that time he worked for the World Bank, based in the United States, before returning after September 11 to advise the man he has now taken over from – Hamid Karzai.

But while Mr Karzai’s wife Zinat was dubbed “the invisible woman”, Mr Ghani’s wife may take a more high profile role.

She is thought to be planning to work with women and young people, although how that will be carried out is unclear.

And perhaps she will have read with interest the thoughts of her predecessor, Mrs Karzai, who last year spoke about the challenges of being Afghanistan’s first lady.

“I know [my contribution] is not open and visible in the media,” she said. “But I’ve done what I can and what I know it’s possible to do given the current circumstances in Afghanistan.”

Harriet Alexander

29 Sep 2014

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/11127936/Ashraf-Ghani-inaugurated-Is-Afghanistan-ready-for-a-high-profile-first-lady.html