Meighan Stone (MS): As ambassador, you have focused on highlighting the critical yet under-credited role of girls and women in creating the future of Afghanistan. Why is this important to you and what have you done to draw attention to the contributions and support of girls and women?
Amb. Hamdullah Mohib (HM):To be perfectly honest, it’s mainly because I have noticed, throughout my life, that women work harder than men and do not carry big egos, so are less likely to allow petty politics or other small matters distract them from the job at hand. Women tend to think more about the bigger picture, the gain for the nation as a whole, and less about their own personal gain. Afghanistan needs that approach, as we try to fully recover from our decades of war, and I see that much more strongly in our women. Thus, it is important for me to draw attention to their important contributions and give acknowledgment and credit where deserved.
MS: As of February 2018, over 28 percent of Afghanistan's national parliament is women. Are there lessons that other countries could learn from Afghanistan to encourage women’s political participation? What does having more women in government mean for Afghanistan?
HM: Women’s empowerment and participation is one area in Afghanistan where the international community, the Afghan government and the Afghan people reached a consensus and came together to make sure that policies, laws, and procedures were implemented, and resources were allocated, to realize this goal. We have seen tremendous results, not just in sheer numbers of women in government, public space and schools, but also in the positive mental shift toward women’s participation in our country’s collective mentality. We now have a generation of young women leaders in critical positions in our government, who have worked hard. We have more women in government now than in any time in history— 11 female deputy ministers, three female ministers, and 5 female ambassadors. Our leaderships’ support of women’s participation has not been simply rhetorical. Political leaders must institute policies, procedures, and laws, as well as allocate resources that empower women and increase their participation, not just talk about the importance of women’s rights.
MS: How can international actors best support the voices and work of Afghan women and girls?
HM: Listen to them; don’t try to impose on them. First Lady Rula Ghani at the Devex World Forum last week here in Washington talked about the need for international actors to see Afghans, particularly women, as equal partners and to listen to what their needs are. Afghan women are setting their own priorities, and they have their own voice—international actors need to listen to that voice.
MS: Last summer you hosted the Afghan Girls' Robotics Team, who came to the United States to participate in an international robotics competition. Why was it important for you to meet with them and what impressed you most about them? Why do you think it's vital that girls in Afghanistan benefit from STEM educational opportunities?
HM: The Afghan Girls’ Robotics Team, particularly their young team captain Fatemah Qaderyan, are impressive and outstanding individuals in their own right, but the positive change they represent for our country is what is even more intriguing and inspiring about these young women. Keeping in mind that they are about as old as the post-2001 international engagement in Afghanistan, they reflect the positive advancements we have made across the board, from education, healthcare, freedom of speech and press, and global connectivity. These young women, and the forward-thinking perspective they represent, are not novelties in Afghanistan—our young generation, particularly the post-2001 generation, have truly created a space for themselves, their dreams and their values in Afghan society and as result, helped shape it and change it, irreversibly, for the better. So I want to champion their work, and their cause, not only because I’m proud of them as a fellow Afghan for what they have achieved on the international stage, but also for the vital contributions they are making to Afghan society.
MS: Women participated in only two of the twenty-three rounds of peace talks involving the Afghan government and the Taliban. What barriers prevented women from formally participating? How have Afghan women contributed informally to the peace process?
HM: Our leadership is committed to the principle that women’s rights are human rights, protected by the Afghan Constitution, and will not be up for negotiation in peace talks. The High Peace Council was restructured under the National Unity Government to include more official roles for women. Now the HPC has a woman deputy, Habiba Sarabi, three women consultants advising the HPC, and out of 71 members, 11 are women. The number of women on provincial leadership councils has increased in the last few years from 11% to 22%. We are also implementing the UN 1325 resolution in Afghanistan.
Women across the country are playing important and active roles as peace-making leaders in their communities, officially and unofficially, in government and civil society. Women from Nangarhar to Kandahar to Helmand have initiated and joined peaceful protests and sit-ins demanding peace, marching in the streets to raise their voices. During the three-day ceasefire over the Eid holiday, many women came into public space to meet with Taliban and discuss peace with them—to name just two: Farzana Wahidy, a female photojournalist met with Taliban in Kabul; and Muqadessa Ahmadzai, a candidate for Parliament in Nangarhar, met with Taliban leaders in Jalalabad.
The First Lady also elevated the importance of women’s voices in peace initiatives during her annual symposium in 2017, which highlighted the multi-dimensional role women are playing around the country to bring peace to their communities.
MS: What are three things that you believe men can do to elevate women and girls?
HM: Men can be role models for other men by not only talking about women’s participation and empowerment, but by taking action and living by those words to support the women in their lives however they can. Some men need to adjust their attitudes and challenge their assumptions about women’s roles and women’s leadership abilities, in order to help create a more enabling environment for both men and women to succeed and work together, whether that is at home, in the work place, or otherwise.
As most individuals who are in leadership positions in Afghanistan are men, there are a number of policy and procedures that they could institute and implement as well to help elevate women; for example, the Civil Service Commission awards 5 extra points to women sitting the civil servants examination, and the National Procurement Authority also give an advantage to women-owned business as well.
MS: Who is the woman or girl whose example or leadership most inspires you?
HM: This is a difficult question. Of course, my mother and my 7 sisters played an important role in shaping me as a person. I have the utmost respect for them and admiration for their strength and resilience. My wife inspires me daily with her humanity, humility, intellect and the ability to juggle so many responsibilities all at once and with near perfection.
In terms of leadership—I have great respect for my female colleagues, though one who stands out for me is Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Adela Raz. I have worked with DM Raz both in the President’s Office and in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so I have seen first-hand how she has had to work twice as hard as her male colleagues to achieve what she has in her professional career. Many would have given up a long time ago. She is smart, patriotic, focused and most importantly tough, never taking no for an answer. She is one of our most capable and qualified young leaders who worked very hard for her achievements, and I find that inspiring.