Afghan women praise Karzai's female cabinet picks

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan women’s activists praised President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday for nominating a record three women to his cabinet, and said it was now less likely that women’s rights would be hurt by negotiations with the Taliban.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai returns from inspecting the guard of honor during Independence Day celebrations at the Defence Ministry compound in Kabul in this August 19, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Massoud Hossaini/Pool/Files

Two-thirds of ministers originally proposed by Karzai for his new cabinet were rejected by parliament last month, forcing him to re-write his list, which now contains three female nominees.

Almost two months after Karzai’s inauguration following an election marred by fraud and widely criticised by the West, Afghans are still waiting to find out who will run their country.

Leading women’s rights activists are hopeful the female nominees will be approved by parliament this week.

“We are trying to lobby for them and we are hopeful that they will be passed (by parliament),” said Sima Samar, head of Afghanistan’s independent human rights commission who was on a panel of leading Afghan women gathered in Kabul to discuss the presence of more women on Karzai’s new list.

“I hope that men in Afghanistan will show that all the allegations that they are against women’s rights in their country can be removed and they would take action and vote for these women.”

Karzai has been under intense pressure by Washington and its allies, which pump billions of dollars of aid each year into Afghanistan and collectively have nearly 110,000 troops battling a rising insurgency, to show he is dedicated to removing corrupt officials from his new administration.

Karzai has also pledged to reignite efforts to engage with the Taliban who are willing to lay down arms and are prepared to work with the government as part of counter-insurgency efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.

The newly named female candidates include Suraya Dalil, a Harvard University graduate nominated for the job of public health minister. The other two are Palwasha Hassan, a well-known women’s rights advocate offered the women’s affairs ministry, and Amena Afzali offered the ministry of martyrs and the disabled.

“It is probably ... the first time we have the right person for the ministry of women’s affairs and the right person for the ministry of public health, at least these I can assure you of,” Ashraf said.

“(Hassan is) not there because she belongs to a certain ethnic group, she’s there because professionally she has been doing this work for the last 15 years,” said Orzala Ashraf, a leading women’s rights activist who was also on the panel.

Editing by Sugita Katyal