Women in Afghanistan

April 24, 2002 at 12:00 AM EST


RAY SUAREZ: With me is Dr. Sima Samar, vice chair of Afghanistan’s interim administration and Minister of Women’s Affairs.

She has been in Washington meeting with government officials. And, you met with Secretary Powell?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: Yes, I did. He promised he would not leave Afghanistan alone. They will stay for a longer term.

RAY SUAREZ: What form will that presence take? What does Afghanistan need from the United States at this point?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: For the moment, actually, unfortunately our country is dependent on aid. I mean, we don’t have resources ourselves yet.

And it was not only the question of financial support, actually, it was a question of security and expansion of multinational troops, or international troops, in Afghanistan. I did ask for that. And I asked for financial support. He said he’s just going to the Senate asking for more financial support for Afghanistan.

RAY SUAREZ: So, you and the other ministers of the Karzai government would like the United States and the world community to increase, for instance, the size of the security force that’s now in Kabul?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: Yes. We don’t want only in Kabul actually, we want a force all over the country, actually, because there are some tensions. There’s a pocket of instability in the country.

As far as we are proceeding to the Loya Jirga, closer to the Loya Jirga, it’s more tension. We want the Loya Jirga to be held properly. And we want the international community to support us on bringing stability and security in different parts of the country also.

RAY SUAREZ: And that Loya Jirga will move you on to a more permanent footing, a more permanent Afghan government, that council?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: Yes. This is a Grand Council that the people… the representatives come from all over the country. And they’ll decide about the future of the government. It will be a transitional government for one-and-a-half years.

RAY SUAREZ: Let’s talk about the government that you serve with right now. Can it be said to be a functioning government in all parts of the country?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: Not really yet.

We are trying ourselves because we went in a country where there were no systems. We started from scratch. And it was 23 years of war and different groups came and just destroyed the country instead of constructing the country.

So it was really difficult. And we are in a process to build up some of the system. But we don’t have really control all over in every small portion of the country.

Because we built the system after 23 years of war and it’s not just one problem, but different problems, difficulties and lack of communication, lack of facilities, lack of roads. These are all the reasons. And we cannot really change for months. But we have been quite successful on doing some of the work.

RAY SUAREZ: You are an ethnic Hazara, one of the ethnic groups inside your country. We are often told in the United States that there is still remaining conflict between the various ethnic groups inside Afghanistan. In your cabinet, in your government, there are people from many groups. Have you been accepted?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: Well, I think yes, I am personally accepted in the cabinet. We have more Hazaras in the cabinet. We are a five-member — of the cabinet. There are five members of the cabinet all belong to this ethnicity and this ethnic group.

I think we are accepted in the cabinet but we have to… a long way to go because there were problems between the Pashtuns and during Taliban and the Hazaras between the other ethnic groups.

I think it takes time to bring and to build the trust, and it should be, I think, in all aspects, in all parts of the government and even, for example, in different ministries, it should be equally distributed among the different ethnic groups, although we are focusing mainly on qualifications.

But there is quite a qualified number of people in every ethnic group.

RAY SUAREZ: What about as a woman?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: Well, as a woman, yes, we do have a lot of women. They are going to different jobs. Me, also as a woman, I already have a space in the cabinet so I made the space in the cabinet. I think that…

RAY SUAREZ: But are you respected as a person of authority? Are you listened to in cabinet meetings?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: Yes, I think so. Yes, I tried my best and they really… at least they do respect my presence in the cabinet and they do listen to what I’m saying.

RAY SUAREZ: What do the women and the girls of Afghanistan need right away? We’re told that their needs are great. What do you have to do first?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: I think the priority for us is education. Of course, for the moment, we really focus on participation of women in Loya Jirga, advocating for that and really lobbying for that, more women to be part of Loya Jirga.

But I think education is really necessary and basic for us because we lost a lot of time without education. I think, too, education can change a lot of things in the society.

RAY SUAREZ: And do you have any funds to build the schools, buy the textbooks, the pencils, the crayons?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: Not much. Not enough. There were all promises but it’s not… there are many platforms but it’s not really on the ground.

RAY SUAREZ: What about the safety of the daily lives of women and girls in Afghanistan?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: Well, as I said, most part of the country is safe, but there are pockets of resistance and problems in the country.

And I think that’s why we ask for expanding troops because the women will be victims of lack of security in any country. I mean, especially in Afghanistan. We have the experience that whenever there was lack of security, the women were most victims and there were more restrictions on them by the family.

RAY SUAREZ: Can you point to changes that really mean progress, that constitute an advance since the Taliban was overthrown?

We were told here in America that they were terrible for women. Afghanistan has paid a tremendous price to get rid of them. Now they’re gone. Is it better to be a woman in Afghanistan today than it was a year ago?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.


DR. SIMA SAMAR: Now, for example, we have two women in the cabinet. Since ten years, there were no women in the cabinet…

RAY SUAREZ: What about women who will never be in a cabinet position, will never be in a Loya Jirga Council deciding the future of the country, but women who are doing laundry, who are raising children, who are trying to farm with their husbands?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: Well, I think they have the rights to go to work, and most of them have gone back to their work.

There’s no restriction on them to travel and work with their male relatives. I mean, nobody will beat them if they don’t have a burqua on. And I think they have access to education. Their daughters are willing to go and they’re allowed to go and they’re already going to the schools, which is quite a progress.

And the girls are going to university, back to study. This was not the case five years ago.

RAY SUAREZ: Have these bits of progress been made more in some places than others?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: Yes, yes, it is because culturally we understand our country. Some parts of the country is really conservative. And some of the big cities are really progressive.

There are people going to… there are women going back to the schools in most of the areas, in most of the big cities, but there are some pockets that actually there are no good schools so we have to build good schools for them.

And the idea is that we really don’t impose everything on the people. We give the people a chance, what they want and what they choose until we have a proper government and law and order in the country.

RAY SUAREZ: Dr. Sima Samar, thanks for joining us.

DR. SIMA SAMAR: Thank you for having me.