Ambassador's Wife Speaks Out On Husband's Exit

Host Michel Martin speaks with Shamim Jawad, wife of Afghan Ambassador Said Jawad, about her husband vacating his post at the embassy in Washington.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Coming up: the top 100 companies for working moms - that, according to "Working Mother" magazine. We'll hear what they have to say about that in just a few minutes.

But first, we turn to Afghanistan, where parliamentary elections were held last weekend. Results won't be known for some time but in the meantime, there have been a number of personnel moves in the government of Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai. Last month, a deputy attorney general was dismissed. In June, the interior minister and intelligence chief were fired. And notably, here in Washington, D.C., the longtime ambassador to the United States was ordered home. Earlier this month, Said Jawad was ordered by the Afghan government to leave the embassy. His last day was yesterday.

Today, we have with us his wife, Shamim Jawad. She is the founder and president of the Ayenda Foundation, the Afghan Children's Initiative. She works with other organizations to improve the condition of women and children in Afghanistan. And since she has been with us before, to talk about issues important to women and children in Afghanistan, we thought it appropriate to invite her back to speak with us at this moment of transition. And she's here with us in our Washington, D.C., studio.

Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. SHAMIM JAWAD (Founder and President, Ayenda Foundation, the Afghan Children Initiative): Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Since elections were held this past weekend, and we know that the results will not be known for some time, but I did want to ask just your perspective on how the elections were conducted. Were there any trends or signs that you would like to point out to us?

Ms. JAWAD: The election took place on September 19th. About 5 million people registered to participate, and close to 3 million people actually went to the polls. That's just because of the security, they couldn't go through all the poll stations. But the lines were open. A large number of people showed up, especially women, despite the fact they'd been threatened by their enemies. But that shows that Afghan women are very courageous, and they want to exercise their rights and their belief in democracy. And simply, they just want peace.

MARTIN: Do you feel that the citizens of Afghanistan and the international community can have confidence in the results?

Ms. JAWAD: Yes. I hope they do. I mean, we just have to wait and see the final results. But I think that's why they went to the polls to vote, because they have some type of a confidence in the process.

MARTIN: Now, as we mentioned, a number of officials who had been serving in the government of Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, have been asked to leave their posts. Your husband was one of them. Do you know why?

Ms. JAWAD: Well, you know, my husband was the Afghan ambassador in Washington for the past seven years. So seven years is a long time to be an ambassador. Usually, the term is from three to four years. So we expected this change, and we are looking forward to a positive transition. And Afghanistan's embassy in Washington is the most successful Afghan embassy abroad. We are very proud of a our achievements in the past seven years.

MARTIN: But there are those who interpret your husband being asked to leave his post, as well as some of the other changes in the government, as a response to an effort by President Karzai to appease the most conservative elements in the country. And I wonder if you think that that is true.

Ms. JAWAD: Well, I think I do not want to answer that question.

MARTIN: OK.

Ms. JAWAD: Because I think it's too political for me.

MARTIN: All right. Well, fair enough.

Ms. JAWAD: The answer, yes.

MARTIN: But I do want to ask - this has become public knowledge - there were photos published on the Internet that supposedly showed parties held at the embassy during the holy month of Ramadan - where, of course, observant Muslims fast from dawn to dusk as an expression of their faithfulness. And these photos allegedly show people consuming alcohol; women dancing in sleeveless dresses. And this was, of course, controversial because the consumption of alcohol is forbidden in Islam under any circumstances. And dancing between men and women - unusual in Afghanistan. But, of course, allegedly, this taking place during Ramadan was perceived as disrespectful in the extreme, and an insult. And so your husband has said that he was the target of a smear campaign. So I would just like to ask what...

Ms. JAWAD: It is absolutely correct; we were the target of a smear campaign. There wasn't - hasn't been any gathering at the Afghan embassy on the second day of Ramadan. Actually, my husband was in Brazil on an official business trip during that time. So everything we have conducted in the past seven years was based on our culture and values.

MARTIN: You have also said that these photos were - created. These were, you know, old or they were doctored...

Ms. JAWAD: Absolutely. Yeah.

MARTIN: ...clearly with the intention of pushing some cultural buttons - the idea of people dancing in mixed company. And you've said yourself that women who are trying to participate in public life in any way face some very real obstacles. Do you feel that Afghanistan will ever reach some kind of cultural accommodation to the very different perspectives that people have about the appropriate role of women in public life?

I want to mention, as you said, that Afghan women are trying to participate. And I should say that according to sources, there are 406 women running for 64 seats in the parliament, and that represents the 25 percent of available seats that are reserved for women. But as you also said, and as many people know, many of the candidates were threatened. Some couldn't even campaign. Their posters were defaced. Many of them received harassing phone calls. Is this a bridgeable gap?

Ms. JAWAD: Well, Afghan women have come a long way in the past nine years, and they have achieved many milestones. And life of women in the urban area has improved significantly, but we are not speaking about all women in Afghanistan. We are speaking about a small percentage. And women in Afghanistan are still facing many challenges. We need to remember there is war in some part of the country. The situation is deteriorating, despite Afghan women's hard work to maintain what they have gained in the past nine years. And women are still suffering from poverty, from illiteracy and a lack of security. So these are the three major obstacles, and that prevents women from advancing.

MARTIN: I guess what I'm asking is: Do you think you will see, in your lifetime, women having the kinds of choices that you would wish them to have? I mean, you live a certain way. You are well-spoken. You're beautifully dressed. You operate with a certain level of freedom and autonomy. Obviously, you're very mindful of your remarks because you're still in a certain position. But you have a lot of choices about how to live your life. And I'm wondering, do you think, in your lifetime, you'll see other Afghan women having these choices?

Ms. JAWAD: I certainly hope so, and I know Afghan women are very courageous, and they will fight for their rights. And that's why we are hopeful, and that's why we are trying for advancing of women - or empowering of women. Because I know Afghan women, the reason they are working so hard and they want this change - because they want a better life, and they want peace in the country.

MARTIN: Can I ask you, finally, before we let you go - and we thank you so much for coming back to see us once again - that your seven years here have been among some very momentous times, both in your country and in this one. And I'd just like to ask if you just have some impressions or memories or thoughts that you'll take with you from this time, from these seven years?

Ms. JAWAD: As I said, it was a rewarding seven years. It was just - what a privilege to serve our country. I think I found myself, and I realized what I really want to do with my life going forward. Because the responsibility will just fall on my lap to help and support, to be advocate for women's right and help Afghan children, and now that -become my major passion in life, and I think that's what I found in life, what I want to do. So I want to commit the rest of my life to helping my people, and to help the women and children in Afghanistan. And that gave me such a satisfaction that I don't think I can replace it with anything else.

MARTIN: Shamin Jawad is the wife of the former Afghan ambassador to the United States. Said Jawad served for seven years in that post. She's also the founder and president of the Ayenda Foundation, the Afghan Children's Initiative. And she was kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C., studio.

And I thank you so much for speaking to us.

Ms. JAWAD: I thank you so much for having me.

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