In 2004, Massouda Jalal created history in Afghanistan as the first woman to contest for the post of President as an independent candidate. She lost the election against Hamid Karzai, the current President of Afghanistan, but that has not stopped her from challenging conservative practices and working for the uplift of women. Ms.Jalal, Director of Jalal Foundation, who was in Chennai recently to receive the SCWEC Women Entrepreneur Excellence Award, talks to Liffy Thomas on the reforms that are taking place in Afghanistan with the purpose of empowering women.
“While Talibans still control some of the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan, the scenario is improving. Women are slowly coming out. After me, women have contested the elections- a sign of women taking more interest in the socio-political, economic and cultural growth of the country,” says Massouda Jalal. But, there is a need for more women political leaders, as only they can take up the issues women face, she says. Ms. Jalal played a crucial role in formulating policies to empower women when she was the Minister for Women's Affairs.
“We got a 10-year-action plan for Afghanistan approved by the United Nations and the government. This included having more representation of women in administration and various other fields. Today, around two million girls go to schools in Afghanistan and there are laws to prevent violence against women,” she says.
Through the Jalal Foundation, she offers training and capacity-building programme for women. A majority of the women are involved in sewing, making handicrafts and designing carpets, but lack of financial support is a major hurdle for women to take their ventures forward.
“I am exploring how micro-finance can be used as a vehicle of change for women empowerment and want more banks to offer funds,” she says.
The paediatrician, psychologist and mother of three also plans to promote Sufism and secularism. She has not given up her ambitions to become the President.
“If the international community does not have a Presidential candidate, then I will contest the election and I will be the winner,” she adds.