She was born in Beirut, but she became the first lady of Afghanistan. Rula Saade was born in a Christian family and she studied journalism (bachelor) and international relations (master) at the American university in Beirut. It was during her bachelor, she saw Ashraf Ghani Ahamadzi, today’s president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and started a relationship, which led to a successful marriage. She didn’t have any idea what she was going to experience, and what life would put on her way in the future. She worked for a few years as a journalist with the French press, and after her marriage she went to the United States and gave birth to her children. After a while she went to Afghanistan for the first time and instantly invested her time in learning Persian. Rula also speaks English, French and Arabic. She then changed her family name to Ghani and her first name from Rula to “Bi Bi Gul”, which means mother of the flower, and she got ready for her new life in Afghanistan.
Their marriage was met with severe backlash in Afghanistan, since she was not Muslim and not from Afghanistan, although she received the Afghan citizenship. However, what she accomplished for the empowerment of Afghan women changed any attitudes and critiques toward her. She supported her husband during the first election in Afghanistan and the one after in 2009, which helped Ghani becoming the president. After being the first lady of Afghanistan, she wanted to change the life of Afghan women and support them in having their own voice. Although, she did not want to change the social gender roles in Afghanistan, since this has been for the past four decades impossible to talk about, she tried to implement projects for facilitating women to get an education and raise their awareness about their rights.
Her focus is not just about women but also helping poor Afghan families in rural areas to be able to feed their children. It has been a long project by her office and the Afghanistan Women Affairs Ministry with collaboration of international donor communities for empowering Afghan women and increasing awareness of their rights and their role as a woman in the society. Time magazine called her one of the 100 inspirational persons in 2015.
International Women’s Day is being celebrated in Afghanistan today as Afghan women worry that their rights may be traded in the ongoing peace talks, but Rula Ghani, Afghanistan’s first lady, says times have changed and Afghan women will not allow anyone to trade their rights.
“This is not Afghanistan of yesterday. When they (the Taliban) came in 1996, there was no government, no army, no destruction, but today the situation is different. Women were isolated in the past, but today they have a very strong presence. “
Rula Ghani, the first lady of Afghanistan, mentioned the achievements of Afghan women and said that these achievements will not be pushed back.
“Women are very active in society now, they are present at all levels, from politics to economics. You can’t eliminate them.”
The first lady said that in Afghanistan, women are being oppressed under the pretense of religion, and this practice is being carried out widely. The remarks by the first lady of Afghanistan, although criticized by conservative and traditional politicians, are an encouraging message for Afghan women to seek their rights.
Written by WAVE intern Homa Bazafkan