Rebuilding Afghanistan: U.S.-Afghan Women's CouncilPaula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs
Remarks at Foreign Press Center Briefing
January 15, 2003
MODERATOR: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Foreign Press Center.
As you know, the United States government has been devoting a great deal of time, energy and resources to rebuilding Afghanistan, and so we're delighted to have with us this morning the Department of State's Under Secretary for global affairs, Paula Dobriansky, to brief us on her recent trip to Afghanistan and what she saw there in terms of the rebuilding process. She'll have a brief opening statement to make, and after that, she'll be glad to take the media's questions. Paula?
MS. DOBRIANSKY: Thank you.
Well, good morning, and thank you for coming. I'm very pleased to be here to discuss my recent visit to Kabul and the meeting, in particular, of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council there. I'll offer a few opening remarks and then welcome your questions.
Let me start out by noting that the trip underscored the importance that the Bush administration attaches to our relationship with Afghanistan. The United States stands shoulder to shoulder with the Afghan people as they rebuild their country and get back on their feet again.
Now, we have a long-term commitment to the rebuilding and reconstruction of Afghanistan. The trip not only underscored the importance that we attach to the relationship, but it also underscored the long-term commitment that we do have to the rebuilding and reconstruction of Afghanistan. Also, our approach is a consultative one. It is one in which we are guided by Afghan goals and objectives and seek to assist the Afghans in implementing their blueprint for action.
The U.S.-Afghan Women's Council -- which in fact was featured during the trip to Afghanistan and is the primary, in fact, focus during our visit -- was established last year by President Bush and President Karzai. It is a perfect example of Americans and Afghans working together. The council is designed to forge public-private partnerships to provide Afghan women and girls with the skills and training which they need to help rebuild their country. The council is also dedicated to mobilizing resources through the both public and private sectors to help Afghan women obtain the training and education that they long desire.
The United States supports the full participation of women in the political, economic and cultural life of Afghanistan. This was a key component to the 2001 Bonn agreement.
To lend prominence to the issue of women in Afghanistan, I led a delegation which was comprised of high-level U.S. government officials and private-sector representatives to Kabul to what turned out to be, I think, a very fruitful and very productive meeting of the U.S.- Afghan Women's Council. The U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, in fact, is chaired by myself, by the Afghan Minister of Women's Affairs Sorabi, and also the Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah.
The meeting last week in Kabul was the council's second meeting. The first one had been held last April in Washington. Since October 2001, the United States has made available close to some $600 million in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan, much of which has been targeted at women and children. The United States has pledged some $300 million for the next two years to support recovery efforts with a large amount directed to programs that empower women. Assistance to women focuses primarily on education, on health-related issues, repatriating refugees, food, security and promoting civil society.
During my trip, I announced $2.5 million in U.S. support for the Women's Ministry to construct the women's centers in 14 provinces in Afghanistan. In fact, quite specifically, we have had conversations with the ministry about the importance of these resource centers. So this $2.5 million goes specifically toward the construction of these centers in 14 provinces. An additional $1 million will be distributed to NGOs for educational programs at these centers. During the course of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, we talked about those areas that would comprise educational programs that are of priority to Afghan women. These include areas such as not only basic education literacy but also microfinance, small business, human rights, the development of NGOs and management of NGOs. In other words, these programs would be conducted at these centers that are constructed.
Afghan future depends not only on education but also on economic opportunities, and this is something that can or should be done -- should not -- can or -- that this is not something that can or should be done by government alone. And it's through the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council that we are creating public-private partnerships to train women and to provide these types of opportunities. For example, our delegation in fact visited a number of sites. One of the sites which the delegation in fact did visit was one of the resource centers and also saw an income-generating project, which was launched in fact by First Lady Laura Bush, where basically in one of the resource centers, literacy courses were in fact being taught to young girls. The U.S. government sent materials donated by a number of American companies to Afghanistan, and also the Ministry of Women's Affairs set up a sewing center where Afghan women are earning an income by making school uniforms for girls.
During the course of the visit, we also not only visited the women's resource -- one of the women's resource centers and saw literacy courses being taught, we also visited, as I've just mentioned, the sewing center -- or portion of the women's resource center, which was and is an income-generating project, which had great relevance to the initiative launched by First Lady Laura Bush, promoting income and at the same time, having school uniforms made which would be given to young girls. In addition, we visited the World Food Program's widow bakery. The delegation also visited a hospital and a quilt-making project. I wanted to mention these because also an important part of the visit was not just only the formal discussions of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, but also the participation and the role played by the private sector. During the course of the trip, in fact, two companies, we announced, have contributed in fact to the resource centers. DaimlerChrysler stated its intention to donate $10,000, in fact, for a women entrepreneurship program, and AOL Time Warner also has raised some $60,000 in support, which is to go to the women's resource centers.
During the trip, we also discussed several other programs that are very important and have an impact on not only women but men. And we are supporting in particular a unique environmental-rehabilitation employment and training program, which is implemented by the Afghan government in partnership with U.N. agencies. It is entitled the Afghan Conservation Corps, and it will support economic growth and political stability through the rehabilitation of forests, dams, aquifiers (sic), irrigation systems and the promotion of soil conservation. At the same time, it will provide cash for work opportunities and train Afghans in skills needed to rebuild Afghanistan. During the visit, we specifically announced $1 million in U.S. support toward a pilot project to launch the Afghan Conservation Corps. United States support for President Karzai and his efforts to reintegrate women into Afghan society is unshakable. The restoration of women to their pivotal and rightful place in Afghan society is crucial to the country's overall recovery, and the United States will continue to be there and to assist.
Thank you. Let me end there and -- certainly would welcome questions.
MODERATOR: I would ask that you please use the microphone and also identify yourself and your news organization. Yes? The lady in the back.
QUESTION: My name is Nazira Karimi (sp). I'm from Afghanistan. I work for Radio Free Europe, Afghan Service. I have contact with a lot of women in Afghan. Some of them, they want to continue their education in the United States or maybe in other countries. Could you please give us some information that AID and any other organization -- they have some program for this kind of woman? Thank you.
MS. DOBRIANSKY: Yes. Thank you. In fact, if I had to pick out what was the number one priority stated clearly by Afghan women, before this trip, during this trip, and I feel confident saying even in the months ahead, it's education. Education was absolutely identified as crucial for women, as well as for men, but specifically for women because women, during the Taliban period, were denied the opportunity for education. In terms of opportunities, first, USAID, in fact, provided resources for young girls going to school. When school opened last year, on March 21, in fact, there were school materials that were available not only for young boys, but for young girls. And we were heartened to know and to learn that in fact a very significant number -- not all, but a significant number of young girls in many of the provinces did return to school.
Secondly, I mentioned the women's resource centers. The women resource centers also provide a physical center and ability for young girls to come to take literacy courses. During our time in Kabul we specifically visited one of these centers in which we witnessed, in fact, young girls coming in and being part of a series of literacy courses. In fact, it was a very moving experience because we had the opportunity to ask them about their aspirations and their goals. Many of them want to be teachers, doctors, journalists, among other professions.
Thirdly, we are also funding, in fact, exchanges. Through the State Department's Educational Cultural Affairs Bureau a number of exchanges have in fact been provided, which enable and facilitate Afghan women who are at a higher age, if you will, higher as part of higher education, to come to the United States and to undertake courses here. Some of these fit in a longer-term period of education, some are shorter term and for particular course work.
I would also mention that through the U.S. Afghan Women's Council, we did bring here some 14 professional women. Prior to their arrival here, they had undertaken a series of computer courses. In fact, the Women's Ministry felt it was important for them to take computer training. They undertook this in the women's resource center in Kabul in which they used computers in fact that were underwritten by USAID and provided by USAID. They took the computer courses there, they came to the United States here with the support not only of the Educational Cultural Affairs Bureau of the State Department, but also through the support of a number of our members -- private members of the U.S.- Afghan Women's Council. They were taken to other locations in the United States; Texas, California, also New York, and in which they had the benefit of continuing their course work through, for example, the support of one of the council members, the Association of American Colleges and Universities. So you raise an important issue; it's one of the priorities. We are providing support not only through USAID but also through the State Department's Educational Cultural Affairs Bureau as well as through the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council.
QUESTION: My name is Seema Sirohi. I work for Outlook Magazine in India and another paper called Anandabazar Patrika. My question is related to the warlords in Afghanistan. I heard that people like Ismail Khan still are quite active and that they are still trying to impose certain very orthodox Islamic practices on women. What can the U.S. do? And did you, during your trip, have any information on this or meet any of these people?
MS. DOBRIANSKY: During the trip, no, we did not, because we were in Kabul. However, there have been other U.S. government officials in fact who have visited various locations and various provinces, including Herat and Ismail Khan, outside of -- clearly outside of Kabul. During such discussions, they have focused on a variety of issues, including the importance of human rights; the importance of peace, stability; the importance of the future of Afghanistan. Also, as part of these discussions, there have been specific specifics referred to concerning women.
I would say during our trip we focused on -- our time on the U.S. Afghan Women's Council meeting in Kabul, but we also, during this discussion, focused on, I think, an important point that you refer to, and in which the women's resource centers I think amplify. That is that President Karzai has indicated quite clearly his strategy of attaching significant importance to moving outside of Kabul; that it is important to expand in all areas and activities outside of Kabul.
For example, the women's resource centers, I mentioned that we are providing $2.5 million in support of the construction of centers in 14 provinces, including in Herat. And that has, I think, a great importance because it takes the very issues, the issues relevant to these centers -- human rights, small business, micro-finance, education -- all of these types of capabilities vested in these resource centers out to surrounding areas. That was something that we heard quite clearly when we were in Kabul, stated by many, about the importance of not only concentrating in Kabul, but ensuring that there was activity and engagement with outlying areas, including specifically with women.
QUESTION: Hi. Steve Koffman (sp) with the Washington File. I just have a question. Have there been any indications of Afghan public opinion on a lot of U.S. and other efforts to reach out towards Afghan women and better their situation -- positive or negative.
MS. DOBRIANSKY: I'm sorry. The first part of your question you said have there been what?
QUESTION: Indications -- opinion -- indications of Afghan public opinion.
MS. DOBRIANSKY: Oh, about our efforts.
MS. DOBRIANSKY: Well, I would -- I'll give you two answers to this. First, statistically, and relevant to the first question, when Afghan women, in fact, and Afghans have been polled, education and support for education has certainly loomed very large. It's been number one. And so in that regard, certainly during our trip, and before the trip, there were clear indications that our efforts and our support and our work in that area is very, very much welcome. During the trip, I have to say -- this is more of a non- statistical comment, but a subjective comment -- you have the benefit of being able to hear and see people's reaction.
And I have to say that we felt very well embraced, not only during our official meetings; we not only met in the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, we also had a series of meetings with NGOs at the Foreign Ministry, including both domestic -- Afghan domestic -- and international NGOs; and then also by being in the streets and visiting different sites, you get a very strong feeling about the importance of our relationship; that there is a great deal of hope and also interest in moving forward, and that we are very much part of that.
When we were standing outside of the women's bakery -- excuse me, the widows' bakery, we had the occasion, in fact, to speak to a number of women and young people on the street. And one of them showed us her books and said how important it was to her, in fact, to get an education. And our support in that effort was also very important to them. So, in some -- first by polls, I think, the relationship has -- in many of the areas that we have collaborated on have been well received, and then also during our visit I think all of our delegation members, and myself included, also have felt that our relationship, our involvement, our engagement, and especially for the long term, is very important.
MODERATOR: One last question.
QUESTION: Thank you. Again Nazira (sp).
Could you please give us some information about the women -- can they have a small business for their own because they want to have a small business, they'd like to have? Because 10, 15 years ago the women of Afghanistan, (there/they ?) was a businessman, now there was also on the other hand some of NGOs work in Afghanistan. What do you think or what's your comment about the NGOs? Because some of the people, they are not happy about too many NGOs in Afghanistan.
MS. DOBRIANSKY: I'll start with the last, in terms of NGOs. NGOs are crucial to the future development of Afghanistan and civil society. NGOs do play, and I believe will continue to play an important role in the future development of Afghanistan, not only in terms of the kind of work that they're involved in, ranging from humanitarian work where, in fact, many international organizations turn to NGOs who are on the ground, who have the kind of long-term skills and experience to which they can apply to the situation in Afghanistan, at the same time there are other NGOs that also play a very crucial role in the area of human rights, as we were discussing before, and not just only in Kabul, but also in other areas, in keeping track and trying to determine what is going on, and getting an assessment of the situation, or in certain cases, investigating allegations of situations that have taken place. So NGOs play a very crucial rule, and certainly one which we will continue to support.
In terms of small businesses, as I identified in terms of the $1 million that we are providing for education at the women resource centers, this will go to projects that pertain to microfinance and small businesses. Women have certainly identified, and we support this, that this is a crucial area. It is a crucial area because it is an area in which women can earn income; it is an area which also contributes to the very growth of society. So there is mutual benefit in terms of skills training, and the livelihood of women, at the same time it benefits the recovery and the rebuilding and reconstruction of Afghanistan itself.
There have already been a number of organizations that have in fact provided this kind of assistance directly to Afghan -- both Afghan men and women. One of the organizations is one that -- not only to single out one, but there have been several which USAID has provided resources for to these organizations who, in turn, provide assistance for small business development. And one of them is an organization by the name of Thinka (ph), which has been operating not only in Afghanistan, but actually worldwide. Its specialty is the promotion of microenterprise and small business. I'm only giving one example. There are a variety who are operating and who have in fact been funded.
But you've identified another very crucial area, and one which our $1 million contributing to programs and projects within the Afghan resource centers, this is one of the areas that we will certainly fund. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much.