Morgantown attorney helps host group of Afghan women lawyers

By Kelly Holleran | Feb 13, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greets Parween Sultany Mascari, a Jackson Kelly attorney in the firm's Morgantown office, during a recent visit to Washington, D.C. Sultany Mascari was there to help host a visiting delegation of 14 prominent Afghan women judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. (Courtesy photo)

Morgantown attorney Parween Sultany Mascari was part of group hosting a visiting delegation of 14 prominent Afghan women judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys last month in Washington, D.C., through a State Department program. (Courtesy photo)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Bombs are set off in their front yards. Their children cannot go to school because it is too dangerous.

Yet the 14 prominent Afghan women judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys who Jackson Kelly attorney Parween Sultany Mascari met with in January continue to work in a hostile environment in an attempt to reform justice in Afghanistan.

"These are the most extraordinary women," Sultany Mascari said. "They go to work every day because they are wanting to see things get better."

Sultany Mascari, an attorney who works in Jackson Kelly's Morgantown law firm, met with the women in Washington for three days last month to discuss ways to strengthen the rule of law in Afghanistan.

The 14 members of the Afghan justice system were participating in a training program arranged by the Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan. The goal of the partnership is to help the Afghan people establish a fair and transparent justice system that protects the rights of women, children, and minorities and that is equally accessible to all citizens.

While in the United States, the Afghan women and Sultany Mascari met with prominent heads of the country, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They had a luncheon with former United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Sultany Mascari was one of a small group of U.S. women who participated in the Washington portion of the trip.

She was selected to meet with the women after one of her co-workers learned of the public-private partnership.

The state department approached a committee, of which Sultany Mascari's fellow attorney was a part, with the idea. Her co-worker recommended to State Department officials that Sultany Mascari meet with them because of her Afghan descent.

Not long after, Sultany Mascari received a call from the State Department.

And in January, she found herself listening in amazement to the women's stories.

One woman was the lead prosecutor of narcotics in Afghanistan, a country that supplies 90 percent of heroin. The prosecutor attained her position after her predecessor was assassinated three months ago.

"Every day she risks her life to go to work," Sultany Mascari said. "All of the women were so strong. They were so dedicated to what they were doing, and they definitely realized the risks of what they were doing."

While Sultany Mascari attended the event with the intent of training the women, they educated her, also.

"I certainly learned more from them than they could ever have hoped to learn from me," she said. "I learned a lot about what is happening over there in terms of U.S. involvement in terms of trying to make things better over there. I learned not to take for granted things we have here."

Life in the country is not easy and some Afghans lack the most basic of things, Sultany Mascari said.

For example, schools are in need of chairs. Children find it difficult to learn because they are tired of standing.

That's not the only problem that stymies children's learning.

"They said people over there were concentrating on lunches," Sultany Mascari said. "It's hard for students to learn when they were wondering where their next meal was going to come from."

The delegation of Afghan women are trying to change things in their country, but it is hard.

Because of the constant threat to their lives, the women told Sultany Mascari and leaders with whom they met that they are in need of security.

"They said without security, they didn't have anything else," she said.

To help improve their communications with the U.S., the women also said they need to learn English.

During the meeting, there were three translators on hand.

Although Sultany Mascari's father is from Afghanistan, she grew up in Parkersburg and does not speak the language. So she, too, was forced to rely on the translators.

In addition to learning about the difficulties Afghans face, Sultany Mascari learned some of the differences between the Afghan system and the American system.

For example, they rule under two types of law -– state law, which is similar to what we have here, and sharia law, which is law that derives from religion.

For Sultany Mascari, the trip was enlightening.

"I went home to my children and imparted to them how lucky they are," she said. "Their (the 14 women's) strength, drive, and courage are inspiring to us all."

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