Ashraf Ghani, who has publicly and consistently stated his support for women’s rights and women’s participation in government, was sworn in as the new President of Afghanistan today at the Presidential Palace in Kabul.

Over 1000 national and international guests attended the ceremony, including high-ranking officials from the United Nations and 34 countries and a delegation from the United States. Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and former President Hamid Karzai participated in the ceremony, marking the first democratic transition of presidential power in Afghan history.

“We should look toward the future with hope,” said Ghani during his first speech as president. “Social justice is the foundation of long-standing peace. Any peace that is preserved with injustice does not stay.”

In his speech, President Ghani promised increased development, security, and government reform, including of the judiciary. Only last week, President Ghani told the country that he wanted to ensure that women were represented on the Supreme Court and at the highest levels of government.

Given the new president’s stated commitment to women, the mood among some Afghans is hopeful that the new administration will support the gains made by Afghan women since 2001 and encourage more progress for women’s advancement. “During his campaign and even after he was elected, [President Ghani] has said and done all the right things,” Manizha Naderi, activist and director of Women for Afghan Women, told The Guardian. “He has taken the women’s vote seriously.”

Women are also buoyed by President Ghani’s wife, First Lady Rula Ghani. A Lebanese-American, Rula, who met Ghani when they were students at the American University in Beirut. In a public display of respect and affection unusual for Afghanistan, President Ghani thanked her during his inaugural address for her continuous support, calling her “Bibi Gul,” a term of endearment. Rula, who is also a Christian, campaigned with her husband and has been a much more public figure than Hamid Karzai’s wife. She has indicated that she will play an active role on behalf of women and children during Ghani’s presidency.

“This will be a first for Afghanistan that the first lady is seen in public and this can have a very positive effect on women,” said Shukria Barakzai, a women’s rights advocate and member of Afghan parliament. “This is a male dominated society and a strong woman like her in the palace will make a huge difference.” She continued, “As an Afghan woman, I will be thrilled to see this great woman standing with our new president and advocate for women.”

The election of Ashraf Ghani was announced after Ghani and Abdullah concluded a power-sharing agreement that created a national unity government with Abdullah as the country’s new chief executive. At the presidential inauguration, Abdullah emphasized that “today we are working as one united team for a better Afghanistan.”

Media Resources: BBC News 9/19/14; Tolo News 9/29/14; Afghan Zariza 9/27/14; The Guardian 9/26/14; NBC News 9/24/14; Feminist Newswire 9/22/14; NPR 4/3/14

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