Masouda Jalal seeks help of education and health ministries to serve women

The new minister of women affairs of Afghanistan, Masouda Jalal, says she needs cooperation of the public health and education ministries in order to deal properly with the problems women are suffering.
Women in Afghanistan are mostly uneducated, or ill-educated, and lack basic health facilities, especially in the countryside.

Ms Jalal, the sole woman candidate in the recent presidential elections, told Pajhwok on Sunday December 26, her second day in the new office, that she will soon specify her priorities for the job, which will be practical in approach.

The 41-year-old pediatrician faces twin challenges of improving the education and the health of Afghan women, who still mostly live in a dire situation. Maternal mortality is on the increase in Afghanistan, while nearly 90 percent of women are illiterate.

"We must endeavour to provide what women need and to upgrade their political knowledge, ensuring they get their rights according to the constitution and their participation in all parts of life," Ms Jalal said.

Some of the ministry staff, who had just greeted their new boss, want changes in its reforms policy.

"Previously, Ms Sarabi (Jalal's predecessor) did not even pay a visit to her personnel once a year, and all the staff did not enjoy equal rights," Samira Samir, a ministry worker told Pajhwok. She complained that they did not get bonuses when staff of all other ministries received them.

She asked Ms Jalal to see her staff first and learn about their problems.

Others complain of 'poor' achievements of the ministry under Habiba Sarabi.

Qudsia Wahab, a female teacher at the Zarghona High School in Kabul, said that the ministry during its past period did not achieve any valuable work for women, other than distribution of sewing machines and donated clothes.

For her part, Ms Sarabi blamed the problems like those mentioned on what she called recommendation-based employment in the ministry.

"We were weak in some works of the women affairs ministry, and the reason was employment of some persons who were recommended to us due to advice, and were always aggressing on me to impede my job," the former minister of women affairs said.

However, Safia Sediqi, head of the women's affairs in the rural rehabilitation ministry, rejects Sarabi's excuses. "I think this reason of Ms Sarabi is not logical because an individual can not hurdle progress of work of a minister."

She also said that the ministry should have to pay most attention to the women in rural communities as, she said, 80 percent people live in villages. It should improve education there by assessing the situation and reporting to the education ministry.

The new minister was born to a textile worker father and a mother who is a writer, in northern Kapisa province. She studied psychiatry at medical school in Kabul.

Ms Jalal switched to pediatrics after the school's mental health faculty was shut during the civil war in the 1990s. She was treating children when the Taliban came to power in 1996 and forbade women from work.

Since then she has been working as a health consultant with the United Nations and practicing as a pediatrician.

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