Elevating the Strength of Afghan Women

Learn more about Natalie Gonnella-Platts.
Natalie Gonnella-Platts
Director, Global Policy
George W. Bush Institute

In marking the 20th anniversary of Mrs. Bush’s radio address amid current events in Afghanistan, the Bush Institute reached out to Afghan advocates across the world for their reflections on the importance of the gains made over the last 20 years and the immense need for global support for at-risk Afghans today.

Today marks 20 years since Mrs. Laura Bush delivered her historic President’s weekly radio address – a first for a First Lady – to direct international attention to the Taliban’s oppression of women. Mrs. Bush’s words helped to ignite a wave of advocacy and action in partnership with Afghan women.

For two decades, Afghan women proved a critical force for democracy, peace and stability benefitting both the region and the security of the United States and the world. Their tenacity and commitment for better stand as testament to their achievements and the continued progress that could have been.

As Mrs. Bush has said:

I have always been impressed by the determination of Afghan women to change their lives and their country. They hope for a better future, if not for themselves, then at least for their children. I’ve met women from Afghanistan who implored me and all Americans to be patient, to stay with them, and to not forget them.

In marking the 20th anniversary of Mrs. Bush’s radio address amid current events in Afghanistan, the Bush Institute reached out to Afghan advocates across the world for their reflections on the importance of the gains made over the last 20 years and the immense need for global solidarity and support for at-risk Afghans today:

Why are the gains of the last 20 years so important?

Razia Jan, Founder of Razia’s Ray of Hope: 

Those who have championed the mission of Afghan girls’ education should not fear that the efforts were in vain. Two decades ago, girls’ education had never before existed in many communities across Afghanistan; mothers died nearly every day in childbirth, and families were trapped in cycles of poverty and illiteracy. Today, the girls in Afghanistan can read and write, they are able to earn an income and support their families, and most importantly, these girls bring hope. And hope is what Afghanistan has always needed most.

Roya Mahboob, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist:

Afghanistan has made great progress over the past two decades toward empowering women, strengthening democracy, improving access to health care, and providing education to millions of children. International donors have had a direct impact on the lives of many Afghans, offering them opportunities for economic growth as they strive for human rights. They have helped my generation desire peace and believe in the democratic standards of free speech and human rights.

Mozghan Wafiq Alokozai, Founder and CEO, Eagle Online Academy:

The change and the outcomes of the last 20 years are enormous and will never be forgotten. As a kid, I witnessed the severe pain and suffering of living in an unsafe place. Unsafe to the point that you were already condemned to be vulnerable just because you were a girl. In 2001 when the Taliban collapsed, [my family] returned to our country. I was only 16 and in the 11th grade at the time. I always remember the feelings of hope and happiness as soon as we returned to our country. It was a wonderful feeling. I was glowing with excitement to be someone in the future. I continued with my education in Afghanistan, and like me, thousands of girls’ lives changed in the past twenty years of American occupation. I finally was able to dream, envision my future, and have hope.

Manizha Wafeq, Co-founder and President of Afghanistan Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry:

One of the gains of the last 20 years was women’s participation in various sectors like politics, business, media, and sports. Those women became role models for the next female generation in Afghanistan and created a lot of hope for the future of Afghanistan.

Jamileh, Break Bread Break Borders Community Cook:

The last 20 years are important because they represent hope. One day, my country is going to be like other countries. The people, all of them, happy together. Not scared for something to happen to their children or [at] their home.

What do you want the international community to remember amid current events in Afghanistan?

Onaba Payab, Education and Gender Equity Advocate:

More than 3,500 international troops and 70,000 Afghan soldiers sacrificed their lives in Afghanistan for a mission to bring freedom and democracy to the country and change the fate of the Afghan people, especially Afghan women and children. Those sacrifices cannot go in vain. In 20 years, Afghanistan undeniably achieved a lot. It built democratic institutions and infrastructure that supported its people and advanced gender equality. Its influence on democracy and peace not only benefited the region but the security of the entire world. Now, we must work together to free Afghanistan again.

Somaya Faruqi, Captain of the Afghan Girls Robotic Team:

I fear that the country will fall behind in its moment of need if it does not advance education for every child. We cannot afford to waste any opportunity. If leadership wants to stop educated people from fleeing the country, they must foster a culture that welcomes education broadly, and women and young girls are half of the population. It cannot rise without them. 

Sarina Faizy, Former Elected Provincial Council Member and Gender Equity Advocate :

The international community has an obligation to speak up and fight for the fundamental rights of all global citizens when they are at stake. Giving up woman’s rights [in Afghanistan] is not an option because women are a big part of [the] country. Afghan women compliment the social norms and are a critical component to the future success of Afghanistan as a nation. 

Sharifeh and Jamileh, Break Bread Break Borders Community Cooks:

Don’t forget the women and the girls.

Nadia Behboodi, Gender Equity and Development Advocate:

The current de-facto authority neglects the human rights of all Afghans, women in entirety, by the virtue of the most radical interpretation of the Sharia law. It is painful for the generation of Afghans who lived 20 years in a growing democratic society. Furthermore, more than 70% of the Afghan population is being trapped in severe poverty and hunger. The Taliban does not have the capacity to create minimum livelihood and means of living. A lack of central leadership among the Taliban, their quench for power, and tendency to serve the interest of the regional powers and competitors [could] again flourish a fertile ground for terrorism and radicalism that [could] go beyond the boundaries of Afghanistan.