Do you know Afghanistan’s new first lady?
Rula Ghani (nickname Bibi Gul) was born in Lebanon. She met Ashraf Ghani, the new President of Afghanistan, while getting her masters degree in journalism from University of Beirut in the ‘70s–she has a second masters from Columbia University. Rula Ghani speaks Dari, English, French and Arabic fluently. Despite her impressive academic achievements, Rula Ghani chose raising her two children, Tarek and Mariam, over a career.
In a television interview, when asked if it was difficult to marry into an Afghan family, she waved away the question, claiming there wasn’t much difference between the two cultures—we value family, we respect elders, we socialize similarly and we eat similar foods.
During the ten years of President Hamid Karzai's rule as head of state, the world barely glimpsed his wife, Doctor Zeenat Quraishi. You would imagine that Rula Ghani's visible role would cause a riot in Afghanistan–instead, her being a Christian has motivated her husband's opponents to indoctrinate Afghan people with fears of a second Crusade by the first lady. The Western media has fanned the flames of controversy by noting her religion in the first paragraph of every English speaking article I’ve read about her.
When asked about her religion, her answer is simple, logical and believable.
Despite criticism from conservatives and opponents of her husband, Rula Ghani has won over many of us with her gracious presence and candid talk about issues plaguing Afghan society ranging from–internal displacement of returning Afghan refugee to women's issues. She’s especially liked and admired by Afghan women. She's the first person I've heard cite the importance of Afghan women who stay home and raise their children as contributing and deserving members of Afghanistan's civil society. Of course, she encourages Afghan female leaders to be vocal and go after what they want. Here is a an excerpt from Rula Ghani’s speech at the Oslo Symposium in November of 2014 -
She offers herself as a sounding board and advocate for Afghan women, not a savior. She feels Afghan women have the strength and know how to chart their own path, if given the opportunity.
I’m excited about Afghanistan’s future. I believe President Ashraf Ghani has the extensive experience needed to develop Afghanistan's economy and with the support of his allies, will be able to move the country toward peace and stability.
I’m also thrilled that Afghan women have a loud voice with the first lady's support and get a chance to be part of Afghanistan’s civil future.
I hope that we take lessons from mistakes of the past, and chart a different trajectory for Afghanistan in the next century with the new leadership and better understanding of what is needed for a stable future in Afghanistan.
In honor of Afghanistan’s first lady, Rula Ghani, I would like to share a special Lebanese recipe from Taste of Beirut, a blog written by food writer Joumana Accad.