May 16, 2016
Over the course of a week in May, Afghanistan’s First Lady Rula Ghani was in the United States for meetings and public appearances in New York and Washington, D.C.
On May 12 in New York, Mrs. Ghani was given the Asia Foundation’s prestigious Lotus Leadership Award for her efforts to elevate and empower Afghan women. Mrs. Ghani was recognized for her encouragement of Afghan women, who have suffered greatly during decades of conflict.
Mrs. Ghani said she accepted the honor “in the name of all Afghan women who are day in and day out working hard to rebuild their society,” and added, “May this award encourage them in their endeavors and may it be a harbinger of peace and of better days to come.”
In her acceptance speech, she spoke of her work with Afghan women: “They have taught me so much. Through their accounts and reminiscences I discovered a resilient, resourceful people, made wise by years of suffering and loss yet persistently seeking the way to a better life. To the international community, the message of Afghan women is loud and clear. Do not forget us. We still need your support and your encouragement. Keep on helping us stands on our own two feet. So many times these women have repeated to me the metaphor about fish and fishing, do not give us fish. Instead, teach us how to fish.”
Mrs. Ghani was selected as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2015. Former First Lady Laura Bush also recorded a special video message congratulating Mrs. Ghani for her work to improve the status of Afghan women which was shown during the ceremony.
In Washington, D.C., Mrs. Ghani held several meetings and gave a May 13 talk at the U.S. Institute of Peace on the progress of judicial reform in Afghanistan. She outlined sweeping changes that have been made in the courts and prison system which have significantly reduced opportunities for corruption across the justice sector.
Mrs. Ghani focused particularly on how such reforms have improved Afghan women’s’ access to justice. The talk, titled ‘From the Reign of Violence to the Rule of Law: The Role of Reforms in Rebuilding Afghan Society,’ was followed by a Q+A and moderated discussion with USIP VP for Asia, Andrew Wilder. She said, “As elsewhere, several decades of armed conflict in Afghanistan translated into a culture of violence and into what I like to call a ‘survival mode’. We need to re-establish social order. Violence as a preferred means of social interaction needs to be replaced with a fundamental respect for human dignity—a human dignity that is secured by the Rule of Law. The present Unity Government and the people of Afghanistan are hard at work establishing strong foundations on which to rebuild their country. And I am very hopeful of their success, notwithstanding the repeated pronouncements of the prophets of gloom and doom.”
Mrs. Ghani said that while re-establishing rule of law has been a top priority of the National Unity Government since taking office 18 months ago, changing the mentality of violence after many years of war will take time. She concluded by saying that “the Unity Government and the people of Afghanistan are hard at work establishing strong foundations on which to rebuild their country.”
Mrs. Ghani also attended the US-Afghan Women’s Council meeting on May 12 at Georgetown University. Mrs. Ghani serves as honorary co-chair of the council, alongside Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush. The Council’s members shared their programs and projects with the First Lady, particularly work around adolescent girls education. Mrs. Ghani then spoke to a group of Georgetown University faculty, staff and students about the state of affairs in Afghanistan today, in a forum hosted by the USAWC and the Institute for Women, Peace, and Security.
Mrs. Ghani also met U.S. Congresswomen, Hon. Nita Lowey, Hon. Niki Tsongas, Hon. Susan Davis, and Hon. Cheri Bustos at the Afghan Embassy. They discussed women’s empowerment in Afghanistan and the current achievements in education, health, the justice sector and political participation.