Interview with Sima Samar, Minister of Women's
[This report does not necessarily
reflect the views of the United Nations]
KABUL, 22 Jan 2002 (IRIN) - After a month in power,
Afghanistan's new Women's Affairs Minister, Sima Samar
told IRIN in the capital Kabul that while some men
were beginning to wake up to women's rights there
remained a great deal of work to be done. Returning
from the United States after nearly a decade, the
doctor-turned-politician is also deputy chair of the
QUESTION: Are there many women returning to work?
ANSWER: Most of the women don't know that the 1961
constitution of Afghanistan is stipulating women's
rights. We have to raise awareness and talk about this
constitution and ask women to come back. I am actively
lobbying with the other ministries to hire women and
promote them and to employ those applicable in
decision making roles. If they are only employed as
secretaries or receptionists then we will not move
In general, attitudes have changed. A university
lecturer came to see me and said she was able to
resume her job that she was in before the Taliban. So
men are employing women. But it will be a slow process
to change some attitudes. A lady told me that she was
about to leave the house without her burkha
[traditional female garment covering the wearer from
head to toe] and her seven-year-old son told her not
to. This was because he feared for his mother's life.
He had heard about the way Taliban beat and harassed
women who didn't wear the burkha. It takes time to
change thoughts. It won't happen overnight.
Q: How have your male colleagues helped to get women
A: The education minister and the minister for higher
education came to me and said that they wanted to
employ a woman as their deputy. The minister for
communications said he had already promoted five of
the women working for him to a higher level. The
minister for martyrs and the disabled also came to me
and said he wanted some strong women too.
The other major problem is that salaries have not been
paid for the past six months. I thought this money
from the donors would be in Afghanistan before 22
December. We have to pay people and if we don't take
action now it will be very difficult for people to
If we want this government to be successful we need
money. If we speak about ensuring security, we need
money. If we want to help women then we need money. We
need to create job opportunities to give them
confidence and give them their pride back. We also
need the money in order to furnish the office. We
still don't have a proper office and no computers. I
can't employ staff until I have somewhere to put them.
Q: How are you going to reintegrate women back into
A: Women have lost out on years of education and we
need to provide them with consolidated projects to
teach them skills such as short-term management
courses, accountancy courses and computer training, in
order to give them a jump start. Girls cannot go back
to the grade that they were in when they left schools
before the Taliban came. There should be separate
classes for them so they don't have to spend years
catching up. The international community needs to help
us fund these type of projects for women.
Q: How are you going to improve human rights for
A: We need increased awareness. I am always raising
women's issues during meetings. Even the male cabinet
members sometimes forget because they are not used to
having women there. When they address the ministers,
they often refer to all of us as brothers. But Mr
Karzai reminds them not to forget about the women in
the cabinet, referring to us as sisters. When we
received Mr Colin Powell with Mr Karzai and Mr Brahimi,
I was waiting for Mr Powell to raise the women's issue
but nobody mentioned anything so I wrote a note to Mr
Karzai to remind him.
Q: What does your role as deputy chair of the interim
administration involve and how are you balancing it
with your other ministerial role?
A: They have given me education, health, social
affairs and higher education, under the role of deputy
chair. Practically, the workload has not increased
just yet. But I am really concentrating on the women's
Q: Is there a certain amount of nervousness about
going too far too quickly with women's rights from
within the cabinet?
A: Partially. Men are not used to speaking about
women's rights and I keep pushing. It will take time
and we need to be sensitive about changing people's
attitudes. I would suggest that we could do with some
gender training for men in the country.
Q: How big a problem is domestic violence?
A: It is a big problem. Many women have visited me
with stories. Recently one girl told me about her
father sexually abusing her. These women need
protection and we need to work on this. Tackling this
problem and bringing it to people's attention will
take time and it cannot be done in six months.
Q: What role can women play in reconstruction?
A: First of all I am trying to find female engineers
for the reconstruction ministry and I have already
discussed small projects for female returnees. When we
give them materials to build their homes, the women
should also sign for them and be involved in the
process. This will give the wife a share in the
property and this is just one example. Women are
already moving into the education and health sector
and this is part of the reconstruction process.
Q: Where does the future of women in Afghanistan lie?
A: I am pushing for women to be part of the Loya Jirga
[grand assembly] and advocating for 50 percent
representation for women. But if it turns out to be 20
percent or 25 percent, that is better than nothing. Mr
Brahimi suggested two women, but we need more. I think
five or six women out of a total of 21 would be a good
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a
project the Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and
information service, but may not necessarily reflect
the views of the United Nations or its agencies.