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Women's Rights Key to Afghan Success

June 29, 2011 by Laura Bush

Each time I meet a woman from Afghanistan, I am reminded that although women faced the harshest treatment under the Taliban, today they are one of the country’s strongest assets for peace. We need to remember this fact now as Afghan officials negotiate with the Taliban and the United States prepares to withdraw 10,000 troops from the country. Afghanistan is at that delicate moment in the development of a free society when the weight of its new institutions will either shift toward a free future or back toward an oppressive past. And whether it continues to protect and expand human rights could determine in which direction the country goes. We have reason to worry. The Taliban continue to wage war against civilians even while the Afghan government seeks peace. And while girls are back in school, they are not attending school in the same number as boys. Violence against women remains a problem, especially in the country’s many rural areas. What’s more, some in the West are losing their focus on Afghanistan. If Americans become disengaged, many of the gains made in Afghanistan over the past decade could be lost. Fortunately, we can see signs that, with a little help, Afghanistan will tip toward a bright future. For example, Dr. Rahela Kaveer, one of the courageous women I have met, came to Dallas earlier this year to join other Afghan women in telling their stories at a conference hosted by the George W. Bush Institute. Dr. Kaveer founded the Afghan Women Empowerment Organization in 2009 to help women in rural areas. Her organization is just one of many organizations and businesses run by women in Afghanistan. Women like Dr. Kaveer prove what studies have shown to be true — that when women participate fully in economic and civic affairs, they become a powerful force for peace and prosperity. Women’s freedom makes long–lasting peace more likely, because women demand improvements to education, healthcare and other critical systems. They become agents for moderation in politics by pressing governments to pay attention to the practical needs of their people. Over the past decade, Afghanistan has made tangible progress in expanding freedom and opportunities for women. The country now has a constitution that guarantees 25 percent of the seats in Parliament to women. A woman is governor of the province that is home to the ancient Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban. And Afghanistan has enrolled more than two million girls in school, up from virtually none under the Taliban. Women are also emerging as leaders in business. By earning a pay check and creating jobs for others, these women are expanding the role of women throughout their country. Americans have been vital partners in this progress by opening up avenues of trade, donating supplies and providing training and expertise. American school children raised millions of dollars for Afghan school supplies in the fall of 2001 and Goldman Sachs’s 10,000 Women Project is training women all over the world, including Afghanistan, in business leadership. Dr. Kaveer is a graduate of Peace Through Business, an initiative run by the Institute for the Economic Empowerment of Women. Kate Spade New York is working to bring Afghan goods to U.S. markets through an initiative called Hand In Hand. To help focus congressional attention on the need to protect women’s rights in Afghanistan, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R–Wash.) and Donna Edwards (D–Md.) recently launched the Afghan Women’s Task Force. These initiatives and others like them provide women with opportunities to become leaders within their communities. Since 2001, American women have asked me what they can do to help their Afghan sisters half a world away. I am heartened by the compassion of American women and I encourage them to get involved. I’ve been working with the U.S.–Afghan Women’s Council, a public–private partnership that was launched in 2002 and works to connect the U.S. and Afghan governments to private initiatives for women and children in Afghanistan. These efforts are critical to the long–term success of Afghanistan because they keep the spotlight on pressing needs and help steer resources to meet them. In 2007, I met with Afghan women at the White House who told me that they live in daily fear that the Taliban’s violence will reverse Afghanistan’s progress toward freedom. Their message was that we must take advantage of this time, or as one woman parliamentarian put it: “This is our only chance.” Today, there is a good chance of success as long as Americans remain engaged and women’s rights are protected. Bush is former first lady of the United States.


Author

Laura Bush
Laura Bush

Laura Bush, former First Lady of the United States, is an advocate for literacy, education, and women’s rights. After leaving the White House, President and Mrs. Bush founded the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas. The Center is home to the Bush Presidential Museum and Library and the George W. Bush Institute, a public policy center established to advance human freedom, economic growth, education reform, and global health.

Today Mrs. Bush pursues her work on global healthcare innovations, and empowering women in emerging democracies through the George W. Bush Institute. She serves as the Chair for the Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative, guiding the Institute’s programs to advance economic opportunity, good health and human freedom for women and girls. Women’s Initiative programs are training women leaders in Egypt, raising awareness of Afghan women’s progress and plight, and convening African first ladies, government officials and public-private partnerships to invest in women’s health to strengthen Africa.

Laura Bush is a leading voice for spreading freedom and promoting human rights across the globe. For more than a decade, she has led efforts through the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council to protect the hard-earned rights of women in that country. As First Lady, she made three trips to Afghanistan and in 2001 she delivered the President’s weekly radio address – a first for a First Lady – to direct international attention to the Taliban’s oppression of women.

Long a supporter of the people of Burma, in 2006 Laura Bush hosted a roundtable discussion on Burma at the United Nations headquarters in New York. After Cyclone Nargis devastated the country in May 2008, she held an unprecedented press conference in the White House Press Briefing Room and urged the ruling junta to accept international aid. She then traveled to the Thai-Burma border, where she met with Burmese refugees. In 2012, Mrs. Bush helped to bestow the Congressional Gold Medal to Burmese opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The legislation for the medal, signed by President Bush, had been awarded to Aung San Suu Kyi in 2008 when she was under house arrest.

As First Lady, Mrs. Bush advocated the importance of literacy and education to advance opportunity for America’s young people and to foster healthy families and communities. She highlighted the importance of preparing children to become lifelong learners, convening in 2001 a White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development. Since 2003, she has served as the Honorary Ambassador for the United Nations Literacy Decade. Laura Bush visited schools and met with students in nations from Afghanistan to Zambia, with a particular focus on the education of girls and women. Mrs. Bush worked with the Library of Congress to create the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. in 2001. The National Book Festival continues to this day and annually attracts more than 120,000 Americans. The Texas Book Festival in Austin was founded in 1996 by Mrs. Bush while she was First Lady of Texas. At the Bush Institute in Dallas, President and Mrs. Bush’s Education Reform initiative works to improve student achievement through effective school leadership, middle school transformation, and the use of accountability.

Because heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women, in 2003 Laura Bush partnered with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to launch The Heart Truth campaign and the Red Dress project. The Heart Truth campaign aims to raise awareness among women about their risk for heart disease. In 2006, she helped launch the first international partnerships for breast cancer awareness and research. As First Lady, she visited countries in Europe, the Middle East, Central and South America to support programs that help women detect breast cancer early so they can seek treatment when it has the best chance of success. Mrs. Bush has visited more than a dozen countries to support the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the President’s Malaria Initiative. Today through the Bush Institute, Laura and George Bush continue their work to promote women’s health through Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, a health initiative that adds the testing and treatment of cervical and breast cancer to PEPFAR in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mrs. Bush is the author of the bestselling memoir, Spoken From the Heart, and bestselling children’s book, Our Great Big Backyard. She serves on many boards, including the National Advisory Board for the Salvation Army, the Council for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Board of Trustees for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Laura Bush was born in Midland, Texas, to Harold and Jenna Welch. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Southern Methodist University and a master’s degree in library science from the University of Texas. She taught in public schools in Dallas, Houston and Austin and worked as a public school librarian. She served as First Lady of Texas from 1995 to 2000. President and Mrs. Bush are the parents of twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, son-in-law, Henry Hager, and proud grandparents of Margaret Laura “Mila” and Poppy Louise Hager. The Bush family also includes two cats, Bob and Bernadette, as well as Freddy the dog.

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