Afghanistan-America Summit on Recovery and ReconstructionPaula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs
Remarks to Afghanistan-America Summit on Recovery and Reconstruction, Georgetown University
July 25, 2002
Thank you Jane. And thank you also to President DeGioia and Georgetown University for hosting this historic, timely, and crucial summit on Afghanistan’s recovery and reconstruction. I am proud to say that Georgetown is my alma mater, and I am always happy to come back. I am honored to be here with my distinguished counterpart, Minister Habiba Sarabi, as well as the ministerial delegation and Ambassador Shahryar. I look forward to working with the entire delegation toward our common goal of creating a free, prosperous, and peaceful Afghanistan. I also want to extend a special thank you to Daimler-Chrysler’s Senior Vice President for External Affairs Rob Liberatore and Tim McBride for supporting this event.
There is an Afghan proverb that says: "A river is made drop by drop." As we discuss the issues facing Afghanistan today, I think that we would do well to remember that proverb and its message -- that great advances often come slowly and incrementally. It is true that, when we look at Afghanistan today, we do not see a wholly transformed country. But if we compare the situation to what it was just one year ago, we can say that Afghanistan is making progress toward a new era of stability and opportunity.
I have been so inspired by the women of Afghanistan who are helping lead the country into this new era. Minister Sarabi, in your first few weeks in office, you have already articulated a compelling vision of the role women must play to insure Afghanistan’s successful rebirth. Your predecessor, Dr. Sima Samar, who was recently appointed the head of the Human Rights Commission, was a courageous advocate for women’s rights in the Interim Authority and no doubt will continue to play an equally critical role in her new position. The achievements of these Afghan women leaders as well as Mohooba Hoquqmal who served as vice chair of the Loya Jirga Commission, are truly remarkable. However, equally impressive and deeply moving are the stories of so many ordinary women, who despite unbelievable odds, have managed to build a life for themselves and their families. I learned earlier this week of a 50-year old woman named Lailoma. Widowed six years ago, and with her only son permanently disabled, she has struggled to make ends met. However, in March -- for the first time in years -- Lailoma was offered an opportunity to enroll at a recently opened Women’s Development Center in Kabul. Without any hesitation, she set herself to acquiring basic literacy and tailoring skills. Most importantly, she has acquired a feeling of hope.
There are many indicators of the improved conditions in Afghanistan like Lailoma’s story, but they mark only the first steps toward recovery. It is essential that the international community neither interpret these changes as a signal that our job is finished, nor become overwhelmed by the challenges that remain despite our efforts. Indeed, one of the most formidable tasks before us is to translate our good intentions into tangible deeds and to insure that our actions are guided by the wishes of Afghan women themselves. We have no desire to impose our norms and values on the women of Afghanistan. Our first and most important goal is to listen and be guided by them as they determine their most important priorities and needs.
Thanks to our ongoing dialogue with the Women’s Ministry, we have a good sense already of some of the most pressing needs: improved primary health care services, expansion of education and basic literacy programs, and access to vocational training. Microcredit will also be key. Even small loans of $100 can help a woman start her own cottage industry. In a nation that is filled with war widows, that kind of self sufficiency will have a far-reaching impact on the quality of life. We also seek to vigorously support the role of Afghan women in the various Commissions, particularly the Constitutional and Judicial Commissions, that will be central to determining the future of women’s rights.
No one denies that the challenges ahead are complex and are not susceptible to easy solutions. For example, the matter of security is of critical concern. We fully understand how important a stable security environment is to a society in transition and especially to women. We are focused on long-term solutions like supporting the development of an Afghan police force and the Afghan National Army, but we also know that there are critical short-term issues that must be addressed. We are working closely with ISAF, the Afghan authorities, and other donors to look for practical, effective ways to promote security for all Afghans, but especially for Afghan women.
Our commitment to Afghanistan’s future can be measured by the scale and scope of U.S. Government support to date. The U.S. has donated nearly $450 million for Afghan relief and reconstruction since last fall. Let me highlight some of our more significant contributions that have benefited women. We have provided more than three quarters of the World Food Program’s aid in Afghanistan. The WFP has been especially innovative in empowering women and families through its unique bakery and food distribution programs. We are proud to support that effort. We have provided to various UN agencies, including UNICEF and the UNHCR, nearly $100 million for Afghan refugees and internally displaced persons. We have also provided direct support to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Ministry of Health, Kabul University, and a variety of Afghan women’s NGOs and civic groups. Some of this funding is being used to establish Women’s Development Centers like the one Lailoma attends throughout Afghanistan.
But government support alone is not enough. The reintegration of women into Afghan society will also require the support of the private sector, of NGOs, and of individuals. I have been struck by the willingness of Americans to mobilize support for Afghanistan. We have seen groups as diverse as the League of Women Voters, corporate CEOs, and even school children asking how they can help. We need to capture that energy and direct it to programs that support the women of Afghanistan. I’d like to highlight one example of an innovative public-private partnership that does just that. Last January, Presidents Bush and Karzai launched the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council to promote public-private partnerships between American and Afghan institutions. It mobilizes private resources to insure that Afghan women get the skills and education that they were denied under the Taliban. Women’s Affairs Minister Sorabi and Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullah jointly chair the Council with me.
Our first initiative, which will be launched in conjunction with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, responds directly to a request that we help train women working in the new government. In September, 18 women from various ministries will come to the U.S. to network and learn leadership, grant-writing, and computer skills, which they will be able to share with their colleagues upon returning home. Initiatives, like the Women in Government Project, equip women to provide for themselves and their families and will bear the greatest fruit in the long run. The report from yesterday’s working group on Women, Family and Society will be an important resource that can better inform our planning as we work with Afghan women to address their most pressing needs.
Building a better future for all Afghans -- men, women, and children -- is a task that demands patience, persistence, and a steadfast resolve not to declare victory before the victory truly has been won. The needs are great, and the importance of our task is even greater. But there is good reason to be hopeful as we see the strides that have been made in just one year. As another Afghan proverb says, "There is a path to the top of even the highest mountain." Together, I believe that we can indeed find that path, and it will lead Afghanistan to a future of peace, prosperity, and freedom. Thank you again for inviting me. And congratulations to Georgetown for holding such a meaningful, urgent summit.
Released on July 25, 2002