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Cablegate: Mfa Chief of Staff: Smart Advocate for Afghan Women

VZCZCXRO9094
PP RUEHPW
DE RUEHBUL #2458/01 2531410
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 091410Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5437
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 002458

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/FO, SCA/A, G/WI
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/DCHA/DG

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM PGOV GWI AF DRL
SUBJECT: MFA CHIEF OF STAFF: SMART ADVOCATE FOR AFGHAN WOMEN

KABUL 00002458 001.2 OF 002


1.(U) SUMMARY. On September 4, POLOFF and recently hired MFA
Chief of Staff Manizha Bakhtary discussed Bakhtary's role as
MFA's highest ranking woman and her thoughts on how to
strategically advance women's rights in Afghanistan. She
favors increasing economic opportunities for women rather
than the workshop-centric gender rights approach used by many
NGOs. Afghan women particularly in cities are better off now
than under the Taliban, she said. She emphasized, however,
that many barriers to equality remain, even for educated,
professional women. END SUMMARY.

INTRODUCTION

2.(SBU) FM Spanta hired Bakhtary two months ago, and as Chief
of Staff, she will exert influence over MFA executive
operations. While she has not met overt resistance from MFA
colleagues, she is careful to play by the rules imposed on
women by a conservative Muslim society. She said that FM
Spanta would like to hire more women at the MFA, but he
recognizes he would face resistance from other high-ranking
MFA officials. According to Bakhtary, there are only three
management-level female employees at the MFA. Of the total
staff, only 15% are women. She attributed her colleagues,
acceptance of her in her current position in part due to the
fact that she is the daughter of famous Afghan poet Wasif
Bakhtary and also because she is the well-known author of
three books.

3.(SBU) Bakhtary is new to government, having a background as
an author, journalist, and NGO executive. She still holds a
full professorship of journalism at Kabul University. She is
considering a future run for Parliament. She characterized
running for office in Afghanistan as a political game, and
was unsure that she could attract the powerful male backers
she needed to win.

BARRIERS TO WOMEN'S RIGHTS

4.(U) Bakhtary noted that women in Afghan cities can walk
unaccompanied, drive cars, and go out without a burqa. She
expressed frustration, however, with the continued barriers
faced by female professionals. In her journalism classes of
50 students, only 10 are women. Of that 10 she expects only
one or two to actually work as journalists due to their
families prohibiting them from performing essential reporting
tasks such as interviewing men and reporting outside of
daylight hours.

5.(SBU) Bakhtary commented that even women who hold
high-level government positions are often not strong
advocates for women's causes. Only a couple of female MPs are
active and almost all others follow the lead of male
counterparts. Many female MPs lack an educational and
professional background that would empower them to act
independently. Bakhtary thinks Minister of Women's Affairs
Ghazanfar is also an ineffective advocate for Afghan women.
Ghazanfar comes from a conservative, fundamentalist family
and her background negatively influences her job performance.
Specifically, Ghazanfar thinks that it is men's role to
delegate certain freedoms to women rather than women having
an inherent right to those freedoms.

STRATEGY FOR CHANGE

6.(U) Bakhtary argued that the lack of economic opportunities
available to women and the conservative Afghan social
structure combine to create an effective barrier for progress
on women's rights. She disagrees with how many NGOs try to
address women's issues through workshops on gender rights
because she believes that for the vast majority of Afghan
women, this approach is ineffective. Projects that focus on
increasing economic opportunities for women and men have much
more potential to improve the lives of Afghan women.

7.(U) Bakhtary said the dearth of women qualified to
interpret the Koran and other Islamic texts is also a barrier
to changing women's social status. When more women are
educated and can authoritatively state what the Koran does
and does not say about women, that achievement will be a huge
driver for changing society's attitudes towards women.


KABUL 00002458 002.2 OF 002


8.(U) COMMENT. Bakhtary sees her approach to advancing
women's rights as being in tune with the realities of Afghan
culture. Bakhtary wishes to partner with Embassy and USAID.
Post will include Bakhtary in future Embassy functions and
encourages the Department to keep Bakhtary in mind for any
relevant international events. END COMMENT.
WOOD

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