Afghanistan will be electing a new president in 2014, to replace the controversial Hamid Karzai, and Member of Parliament Fawzia Koofi is the first announced candidate for that post. The 36-year old expects considerable backlash against the candidacy because Fawzia Koofi is a woman.
In press interviews, Mme. Koofi explained, “There are certain traditional leaders who don’t want to see the progress, so they will try to create problems for me. I am sure my campaign will be one of, I can say, one of the noisiest campaigns. I will have lots of troubles against.” Mme. Koofi is an strong advocate for women’s rights. Afghanistan is deeply divided on women’s issues. The south, where the Taliban were in power before 2001, is the more traditional area. This is where the Taliban imposed very strict laws and women were shot in the streets if a stray breeze lifted their burqas so that a man got a glimpse of stocking. The north where one half was in the hands of the Northern Alliance and the other half controlled by a warlord, is more modern.
Afghanistan, as we all know by now, borders Pakistan, which was the first Muslim nation to elect a female Prime Minister, the late Benazir Bhutto. Mme. Bhutto faced many of the same things that Mme Koofi will face.
Mme. Koofi makes the case that she is a candidate for all Afghans. “If Afghanistan is economically strong, we could be a reliable partner to the world and a reliable country for our citizens, and that economic empowerment comes from our natural resources like our mines, right now the mines, the income from the mines, unfortunately doesn’t go to the income of the country. It goes to the individual pocket.” Geologists have estimated that Afghanistan is sitting on around $4 trillion in marketable minerals. In a stable nation, at the very least, the country would be collecting royalties from the companies extracting ore (like America’s oil industry); at the very best, the country would own the mines and make all the profit (like Saudi Arabia’s oil industry.)
Mme. Koofi was the first girl in her family of 22 siblings to get an education. She was elected to parliament in 2005 and re-elected in 2010. The Taliban tried to assassinate her after she became Afghanistan’s first female deputy speaker.
Economists have long made the case that no nation can be economically strong without the involvement of women. In India and other countries where the Clinton Global Initiative has been working with community banks and micro-loan programs, women are a large part of the process. They will participate in a group loan so they can buy a sewing machine and start a tailoring business, or buy a new oven and open a bakery. In a group loan, five or six people will co-sign a small loan for one person. When that loan is paid off, the next person gets his or her loan. It is an extremely successful way to start small businesses in third world countries. Mme. Koofi can be expected to make the case that Afghanistan not only needs the large economic measures involving the countries resources, but the small economic measures that will move the people off relief programs and make them tax-payers.
Afghanistan has not known peace for so long there are hardly any Afghans alive who remember a time when there were not troops in the streets and gunfire in the night. They need a visionary, but they also need someone with a proven record of being uncorrupted and uncorruptable.