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Cablegate: Afghan Ministry of Women's Affairs: Not Speaking

VZCZCXRO7890
OO RUEHPW
DE RUEHBUL #3342/01 3661228
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 311228Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6580
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 4458
RUMICEA/USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 KABUL 003342

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR SCA/FO DAS CAMP, SCA/A, DRL, GTIP, PRM, INL, GIWI
NSC FOR JWOOD
OSD FOR MCGRAW

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPOL PREL PHUM AF
SUBJECT: AFGHAN MINISTRY OF WOMEN'S AFFAIRS: NOT SPEAKING
UP FOR AFGHAN WOMEN

------
Summary
-------

1. (SBU) Civil society actors largely agree the Ministry of
Women's Affairs (MOWA) is a weak advocate for Afghan women.
The Ministry receives one of the smallest budgets of all
Afghan ministries, and four women have rotated through as
Minister over the past seven years. MOWA leadership
envisions the Ministry as a policy-making body and relies
with little success on other ministries to implement its
programs. Some argue the Afghan government should not have a
MOWA, as MOWA's existence gives other government entities an
excuse to neglect issues affecting women. The story is not
all negative, however, as some functions performed in Kabul
and by MOWA's Department of Women's Affairs (DOWA) offices in
the provinces benefit thousands of extremely needy women who
arrive on MOWA's and DOWAs' doorsteps with nowhere else to
turn.

-----------
MOWA Basics
-----------

2. (SBU) Although a women's commission of sorts has existed
in Afghanistan since 1922, the organization first achieved
ministry status following the December 2001 Bonn Agreement.
Since then four women have served as Minister of Women's
Affairs, Dr. Sima Samar (Chairperson, Afghan Independent
Human Rights Commission), Dr. Habiba Surobi (Governor of
Bamyan), Dr. Massouda Jalal (Director and Founder, Jalal
Foundation), and Dr. H. B. Ghazanfar (current). Dr.
Ghazanfar, an Uzbek originally from Balkh Province, earned
her doctorate in Philosophy at St. Petersburg University.
Prior to her August 2006 appointment as Minister of Women's
Affairs, she served as Dean of Language and Literature at
Kabul University. MOWA employs 183 staff in Kabul (112
women, 71 men) and 311 staff (196 women and 115 men) in DOWA
offices in all 34 provinces. In 2008 MOWA received 0.2% of
GoIRA's operating budget. USAID supports MOWA financially
and logistically including through The Asia Foundation whose
programs include capacity building and leadership training
for MOWA senior management.

3. (SBU) MOWA's largest accomplishment is the drafting and
promulgation of the 10 year National Action Plan for the
Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA), a policy document which
outlines how the Afghan government will implement its
commitments to women made in the Afghan Constitution and in
the Afghanistan National Development Strategy. The areas of
government responsibility include security; legal protection
and human rights; leadership and political participation;
economy, work, and poverty; health; and education. The
document is an important step toward identifying challenges
Afghan women face and assigning responsibility to address
these challenges. However, the move from policy to
implementation is stalling largely due to MOWA's inability to
advocate counterparts in other ministries more forcefully or
successfully.

----------------------------
Questioning MOWA's Existence
----------------------------

4. (SBU) Civil society and government actors describe MOWA as
ineffective in advancing women's rights and quality of life.
More sympathetic observers attribute MOWA's failures to lack
of cooperation from other Afghan government entities. MOWA
leadership views its role as a policy-maker and depends on
other ministries to implement its polices. Minister
Ghazanfar admits she feels uncomfortable speaking out as the
only woman present during cabinet meetings and thus, does not
aggressively lobby her counterparts to do their share under
the NAPWA and other women's rights initiatives. Not only do
many ministries do nothing to support the MOWA agenda, some
have blocked MOWA actions. For example, last year MOWA
abandoned a public information campaign against domestic
violence under pressure from the Ulema Council and the

KABUL 00003342 002 OF 003


Supreme Court, MOWA Deputy Minister Mojgan Mostafavi said.
Mostafavi, exemplifying MOWA's passive attitude towards
advocacy, said "perhaps" MOWA would re-attempt the campaign
"in another ten years."

5. (SBU) Some civil society actors argue MOWA should not
exist. Global Rights Country Director and Afghan Women's
Network (comprised of 67 women-led NGOs) leader Wazhma Frogh
opposed establishing MOWA in 2001 and still thinks the
ministry is counter-productive. Frogh (an Afghan American)
contends that MOWA's existence gives other ministries and
government entities an excuse to do nothing to help women.
Meanwhile MOWA receives one of the smallest budgets of any
Afghan ministry, showing a lack of government-wide commitment
to supporting the Ministry. Furthermore MOWA is always led by
a Uzbek or Hazara, which in a country dominated by Pashtuns
and secondarily by Tajiks, diminishes the Ministry's clout.
She argues the Palace checks the box of minority
representation for the Uzbeks or the Hazaras with the
Minister of Women's Affairs position. Frogh and those who
share her view argue all ministries should take
responsibility for advancing women's issues and should be
held accountable for lack of progress.

6. (SBU) Afghan Women Council Director Fatana Gailani also
thinks MOWA should be eliminated in favor of a women's
affairs office within each ministry. When we talk about
democracy and gender, she said, we should not separate men
and women, who have equal rights and should be treated
equally. The government must work to empower women
economically, politically, socially, and culturally by
providing a wide range of programs and services such as
protection from violence, adult literacy classes, parenting
classes, health education, legal rights awareness, and skills
and capacity building. These areas pertain to many different
ministries, and thus, all ministries should have an office or
section devoted to implementing these programs and ensuring
women make equal progress with men in these areas. She
criticized Karzai for selecting an unprepared Minister
(Ghazanfar) and characterized the ministry as having "no
achievements."

--------------------------
MOWA's Luke-warm Advocates
--------------------------

7. (SBU) Others disagree, including 2004 presidential
candidate and ex-MOWA Minister Massouda Jalal. Jalal, who
currently heads a women's capacity building and literacy
training foundation, favors any institution dedicated to
women. She attributed MOWA's weakness to current Minister
Ghazanfar. Jalal views Ghazanfar as ill-prepared for the job
and unable to lobby her counterparts or empower her
subordinates. When Jalal was Minister she had a memorandum
of understanding with the Ministry of Transportation (MoT)
and would meet him each month to ensure MoT was fulfilling
its obligations to implement MOWA's transportation-related
policies. She suggests each Ministry have a dedicated
contact person for liaison with MOWA and the Minister hold
other ministers accountable at cabinet meetings and through
pressure in Parliament to fulfill commitments made to MOWA.

8. (SBU) Afghan businesswoman Hassina Syed agreed MOWA should
be maintained, but sharply criticized the Ministry's lack of
leadership and activism on women's issues. MOWA's existence
forces Afghan men to incorporate women into government.
Recognition that women have a role to play is an important
first step. Unfortunately, MOWA staff spend most of their
time "chatting about their jewelry, their daughters getting
married to their friends' sons, sipping tea, and eating
rice." MOWA should have made the loudest protests when the
Taliban threw acid on the Kandahar schoolgirls, and when
President Karzai pardoned a convicted rapist. Syed believes
it is not feasible for all ministries to have a section
devoted to women's issues - there is a clear lack of
government-wide support for advancing women's rights. Also,
many families who allow female relatives to work at MOWA
would not allow them to work in a male-dominated office at

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another ministry.

--------------------
What is working well
--------------------

9. (SBU) Notwithstanding all of the problems outlined above,
MOWA is doing some important and effective work on behalf of
Afghan women. In Kabul, MOWA's legal department carries a
heavy caseload counseling distraught victims of family
violence and providing legal advice and representation to
needy women. Legal department Director Fawzia Hamini is
knowledgeable, professional, and works tirelessly counseling
the dozens of walk-in clients the department assists each
week. Hamini spearheaded MOWA's drafting of a domestic
violence bill and is working with the Ministry of Justice to
produce a final version in anticipation of the March 8
commemoration of International Women's Day.

10. (SBU) DOWA offices in the provinces often are the only
hope for women escaping cases of extreme violence and
cruelty. Despite inadequate funding and shortages of service
providers, DOWAs in many parts of the country carry out their
mandates to the best they can. The Herat DOWA office
provides legal and family counseling and refers women to
shelters. The Kunduz DOWA office hosts community roundtables
on women's issues, counsels families, and provides space for
human rights training for judicial officials. These
functions, of course, could be performed by NGOs or other
civil society groups, which run Afghanistan's 19 women's
shelters. However, like MOWA, these groups, where they
exist, often lack funding and organizational capacity.
Afghan NGOs also frequently suspend operations indefinitely
or close up shop all together when a grant runs out or the
director moves to a higher-paying job elsewhere.

11. (SBU) COMMENT. The first three MOWA Ministers are all
outspoken progressive leaders. Minister Ghazanfar is much
different -- conservative, quiet, and probably in over her
head. MOWA's lack of success under the first three ministers,
however, means the choice of minister may not float or sink
the ship. The debate over MOWA's existence is one for Afghans
to lead and resolve. In the meantime, MOWA is doing important
things for women, particularly in the provinces. AID is
providing much needed capacity training and financial
support, both elements MOWA needs more of, particularly
directed to the provincial offices. We will give MOWA
support as it works within the government to advance its
initiatives and presses other agencies to increase the number
of women in government positions.
WOOD

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