Afghanistan’s cosmopolitan new first lady has backed France’s controversial ban on the niqab, comparing the full veil to “blinders” as she prepares to campaign for more respect for women in her conservative adopted homeland.
Rula Ghani shocked Afghan observers when she appeared with her husband during the presidential campaign, a rare example of a political wife sharing the spotlight.
Now the Lebanese-American of Christian heritage is set to carve out a role for herself as the patriarchal and deeply Muslim nation’s first high-profile first lady.
Ghani, who speaks five languages, reminisced about her time as a student at the prestigious Sciences Po university in Paris which she attended during the late 1960s.
Wearing a vintage Hermes scarf over her hair, she recalled that “all the young women at Sciences Po had their headscarves which they would wear as they stepped out of school”.
“Regarding the French law against the niqab and burqa which prevent women from being able to move freely and see, because the niqab is a bit like blinders, I am in full agreement with the government of France,” Ghani said.
Wearing the full veil in public was banned by French law in 2011. Ghani admits she is still trying to define her role, but hopes that by the end of her husband’s five-year term, “men in Afghanistan will be more inclined to recognise whatever role their wives take”.