News sources have showed much interest lately in Afghanistan’s First Lady, Rula Ghani, and her unconventional media presence. A recent Washington Times’ article states that: “Rula Ghani has done what first ladies often do in democracies, attending public events alongside her husband and speaking before audiences on current issues. But her words have always been soft-spoken, measured and delivered away from the center stage of the Afghan political scene.”
Often times, Afghanistan’s first ladies are ‘invisible’, neither seen nor heard in public, and certainly not involved in any politics or activism. Ghani is one of the few First Ladies to appear as an advocate and counselor for female political issues. Her husband, President Ashraf Ghani, even set the stage for his wife’s presence by introducing her in his inaugural speech. That act alone isolates Ghani as a controversial female figure.
Ghani, however, in an interview with The Associated Press, refers to herself as merely a ‘listening post’. She refuses the expectation that she serve as an advocate for women’s rights and rejects the treatment Afghan women as victims or prisoners who are in need of escape. Instead, Ghani refers to Afghan women as “very strong women, indeed living in very challenging conditions, showing a lot of resilience, [and] a lot of resourcefulness”.
When placed in the scope of a democracy, Ghani’s actions may seem small. However, an interesting comparison arises when looking at statements made by First Lady Michelle Obama. The First Lady recently delivered a speech in which she defends the act of careful compromise. She stated:
“Do compromises make [great] leaders sell-outs? Traitors to their cause? I don’t think so. Instead I think they knew that if they could just get everyone to take that first step, then folks would keep on moving in the right direction. And they also understood that often the biggest, most dramatic change happens incrementally, little by little, through compromises and adjustments over years and decades. And I know that these days that can seem counterintuitive because we live in such an instantaneous age, [but] if you want to change their minds, if you want to work with them to move [a] country forward, you can’t just shut them out. You have to persuade them and you have to compromise with them. That’s what so many of our heroes in history have done… they knew where they wanted to go, and they were strategic and pragmatic about getting there.”
(First Lady Michelle Obama, May 25, 2015)
Even in a democracy which centers itself on heated debates and polarized belief systems, the First Lady advocates for incremental change. Simply appearing in public and representing Afghan women as a ‘listening post’ can be a big move towards compromise. Could Ghani have made the first step towards a new female representation in Afghanistan? First Lady Michelle Obama and First Lady Rula Ghani may have more in common than first meets the eye; although they are female representatives for two very different nations, both are advocates for the careful compromises and small adjustments that move a society forward.
Here at Barakat, we know that change comes one step at a time; each girl who enrolls in our schools benefits individually from her education, but also serves as an advocate for slow but steady change, much like Rula Ghani. One girl can make a difference, even if that difference comes slowly, and in the form of small compromises.
We urge our supporters to help us continue our mission, and join us on the path towards global education, even if that path can seem long and winding at times! It is the careful consideration of different beliefs and a firm sense of understanding that will promote change for the better.
To learn how to advance the education of women and children and support Barakat’s most recent cause, visit our One for Education website here.