DALLAS--()--A decade ago, when Mrs. Laura Bush delivered her historic radio address calling attention to the plight of women and children suffering under the Taliban, women in Afghanistan were banned from the workforce and prohibited from gaining an education. Today, women represent 26 percent of all Afghan civil servants, 24 percent of government-media workers, 21 percent of private-media workers, and 24 percent of all Community Development Council members.1 They also make up 28 percent of teachers at the primary and secondary level.2 Many Afghan women are now employed as university professors, doctors, lawyers, judges, and police officers.
“On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.”
In an effort to further the hard-won progress, the George W. Bush Institute convened Afghan President Hamid Karzai, business leaders, entrepreneurs and policymakers at a two-day conference, “Building Afghanistan’s Future: Promoting Women’s Freedom and Advancing Their Economic Opportunity.”
“We firmly believe it is in the interest of the United States to empower women in Afghanistan for the sake of national security and for the sake of peace,” said former President George W. Bush at the dinner preceding the first panel of the conference on Wednesday evening, March 30, 2011. “Freedom is universal. Freedom is the desire of every man, woman and child on the face of the earth, and we believe that women in places like Afghanistan are going to lead the freedom movement.”
Experts and global organizations came together for the conference to identify the obstacles facing Afghan women and girls, and to highlight opportunities that promote freedom and expand economic engagement for Afghan women.
Since the fall of the Taliban, progress has been made in Afghanistan, particularly related to basic rights for women who have gained greater access to education, political participation and employment. However, the status of women in that country remains fragile. Research shows that when women are included in the economy, countries are more stable and prosperous. It is imperative to the success of Afghanistan that women have the freedom and skills to contribute fully to their nation’s development.
“Women play a vital role in the peace and prosperity of successful democracies,” said former First Lady Laura Bush in her opening remarks on Wednesday evening. “George and I are committed to promoting freedom and opportunity for the women and girls of Afghanistan. Despite progress—and there has been great progress—since the fall of the Taliban government, women’s freedoms are still fragile in Afghanistan. We’re committed to standing with the women of Afghanistan.”
She was followed by a panel discussion including Ambassador Melanne Verveer; Ambassador of Global Women’s Affairs at the U.S. Department of State; Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations; and Asila Wardak, Director of Human Rights and Women’s Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan. Their discussion started the conference, highlighting the critical need for continued advancement of women’s rights in Afghanistan.
President Bush delivered the first remarks of Thursday’s events, highlighting the important role that the U.S. people have played in supporting Afghanistan’s women and the Bush Center’s commitment to continuing that work. “We believe every life has dignity and every life is important, whether it be an American woman or a woman in Afghanistan,” said President Bush. “To this end, we will be enablers, we will be mentors and we will encourage and support the women of Afghanistan.”
President Bush was followed by a conversation via teleconference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Steve Hadley, former National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush. President Karzai thanked the American people for their commitment to Afghanistan and their sacrifices on behalf of the Afghan people.
“There should be no doubt in our minds that there will not be any changes allowed by the Afghan people that would diminish or reduce the gains that Afghan women have made," said President Karzai in response to Hadley's question regarding potential changes to the Afghan constitution. "We will work towards a brighter future for Afghan women, who have indeed suffered because of the Taliban ... They bore the brunt of the suffering in Afghanistan, and from peace they should have the maximum gain."
Ambassador Robert Zoellick, 11th President of the World Bank Group, followed with comments, and the conference then presented two panels, both moderated by Greta Van Susteren, Host of “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren." The first, Fostering Entrepreneurs: Developing Small and Medium Enterprises, included Dr. Rahela Kaveer, Director of the Afghan Women Empowerment Organization and a graduate of Peace through Business; Dr. Terry Neese, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women and Peace through Business Program and Mina Sherzoy, Manager, Deloitte Consulting LLP and Founder, Afghanistan World Wide Shopping Online Mall.
The second panel, Corporate Investments: Creating Sustainability, included Dina Habib Powell, President, Goldman Sachs Foundation; Global Head of Corporate Engagement; Partner, Goldman Sachs; Fatema Akbari, Owner of Gulistan Sadaqat Company and a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Project; Shahla Akbari, Owner of the Afghan Women Initiative Shoe Manufacturing Company and a graduate of the 10,000 Women Project; Jeff Richardson, Vice President, Global Health Access, Abbott Fund; Sydney Price, Senior Vice President, kate spade new york and Johanna Saum, Director of Public Relations, kate spade new york.
The conference also featured a small Afghan bazaar, featuring goods from many of the conference participants and other Afghan organizations. Bazaar participants included: ARZU STUDIO HOPE, who featured rugs and Peace Cord bracelets made from military parachute material; Artizan Sarai, who brought home goods, accessories, jewelry, gifts and apparel; Gulistan Sadaqat Company, featuring wooden toys and accessories; Afghan Women Initiative Shoe Manufacturing Company, featuring handmade shoes; and Afghanistan World Wide Shopping Online Mall featuring jewelry, silk scarves and accessories.
About the George W. Bush Institute:
The George W. Bush Institute’s mission is to unleash human potential around the world through expanding human freedom, educational reform, global health, and economic growth. In all its programming, the Institute seeks to empower women and social entrepreneurs as proven agents of change in society. The Institute is part of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which includes the Presidential library, located on the campus of SMU in Dallas. For more information, please visit www.georgewbushcenter.com.
1 Harjot Kaur and Najla Ayubi, “Status of Women in Afghanistan,” in State Building, Security, and Social Change in Afghanistan: Reflections on a Survey of the Afghan People, Asia Foundation, 2008.
2 “Girls disadvantaged in Afghan education,” Agence France-Presse, April 21, 2008.