Afghanistan’s First Lady: ‘We Need to Get Out of the Mentality of War’

Have international aid organizations distorted the West’s perceptions of Afghan women? Rula Ghani, the wife of Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani and the country’s first lady, said she believed that was the case at the Fortune Most Powerful Women International conference in Montreal, Canada Monday afternoon.

She said the misconceptions are “created by international aid organizations that need to raise funds.” Commenting that such organizations are run quite sloppily, she suggested that to keep their funds coming they exaggerate the plight of Afghan women.

She said that while the women of her country need help, they are extremely resilient and resourceful with very little money. She says their position in the country has improved vastly in the past decade and a half and that they are often hurt by their misrepresentation in international conversations. She said that changing that narrative, will help “unleash their power.”

She also thinks that Western perceptions of the country are off. She described the environment in the country not as a state of war, but one of ongoing uncertainty and insecurity, where daily life is punctuated by periodic episodes of frightening violence or explosions that are moved on from a couple days later. “That’s what everyone is really tired of,” she said. She added that while the vast majority of Afghanistan’s population wants peace, there are certain parties in the country that she said benefit from war and that are currently undermining peace efforts in the country.

She downplayed an attack that killed 15 and marred the recent election in Afghanistan. She described it as an unfortunate but relatively minor incident that came at the end of the day and otherwise did not disrupt the vote.

She is working to train women in conflict resolution. “We need to get out of the mentality of war,” she said, noting that people live differently and more violently after decades of conflict. “You lose your sense of right and wrong. You’re in survival mode,” she said, adding that while skills of negotiation and compromise are not new to Afghanistan the have been “forgotten after a period of war.”

She said she is “very optimistic” about Afghanistan’s prospects for peace. After a recent three-day ceasefire in the country, she said that members of Taliban came into the city to find ice cream and that Afghanis were “very happy.” Though short-lived, she said the incident proved naysayers wrong.

She is sure a more lasting peace for the country will be reached. “I don’t know if I will live to see it, but it will happen….peace takes a long time.”