U.S. Commitment to Afghan Women: The U.S.-Afghan Women's Council
"Developed and developing countries alike cannot hope to meet 21st century challenges without the full participation of women in all aspects of their national life. And so today, we celebrate the crucial contributions of women to international wellbeing. May we also rededicate ourselves to advancing the rights and opportunities of women everywhere." [full text]
--Secretary Powell, March 8, 2004 , International Women’s Day
The Council meets twice a year, alternating between Kabul and Washington, DC, to discuss programs and priorities for assisting Afghan women and to review progress. Co-Chairs of the Council are Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and Afghan Minister of Women’s Affairs Habiba Sarabi. U.S. members include Karen Hughes, former Counselor to President George W. Bush; Connie K. Duckworth, Chair of the Committee of 200, an organization of women business leaders; Patricia de Stacy Harrison, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs; Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and Special Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan; Pat Mitchell, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Public Broadcasting System; Marin Strmecki, Afghanistan Policy Coordinator in the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon; Constantine W. Curris, President of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities; and, Barbara Barrett, Chairman of the Board of Governors of Thunderbird University.
U.S. Leadership Management and Computer Education. The Council’s first major program, in September and October 2002, was to bring 14 women from various Afghan Government ministries to the United States for an educational exchange program. During their 4-week stay, they received training in computer skills, proposal writing, communications, and leadership management. Each participant received a laptop computer for training in the United States and to take home to use in Afghanistan. The women met with President George W. Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice at the White House, and with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell at a Department reception held in their honor. They also had the opportunity to interact with senior policymakers, Members of Congress, government agency officials, and representatives of non-governmental organization. In Austin, Texas, they looked at the interaction among federal, state, and local entities. Their program concluded in New York City where they met with representatives of the United Nations.
Public-Private Partnerships. The Council’s core mission is to develop and foster partnerships between the private and public sector:
Microcredit. The Council views microcredit as an important means of helping women gain self-sufficiency through starting their own businesses. Through an original $10,000 donation to the Council from Daimler-Chrysler, the Foundation for International Community Assistance (FINCA), a leading NGO in microfinance, will help start two village banks in Herat. Daimler Chrysler contributed an additional $25,000 in February 2004 to construct another 5 community banks to support microfinance loans for women in Heart province. FINCA expects to assist more than 30,000 clients in Afghanistan over the next 5 years.
Women’s Resource Center. Women executives of AOL/Time Warner have raised $60,000 for the Council’s Gift Fund to support a provincial women’s resource center in Afghanistan.
Teacher Training. The Council has initiated a teacher training exchange that is bringing 30 Afghan women teachers to Nebraska every 6 months for training. In turn, these women will train other teachers in Afghanistan.
Women Journalists. Under the Council’s auspices, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the News Hour With Jim Lehrer mentored two Afghan women filmmakers in production techniques. PBS provided modern digital video production and editing equipment for them to use in Afghanistan and training videos for use at AINA, a Kabul-based NGO devoted to media training.
Job Skills Training. The Global Summit of Women (July 2002 in Barcelona, Spain) donated approximately $10,000 for job-skills training for women. Through this program, Shuhada, a NGO, will train women in weaving skills. At the conclusion of the program, the women will receive their own looms to produce textiles for market.
Health Initiative. The United States has launched a $5 million initiative (REACH) to provide health- related accelerated learning and basic literacy training for women in girls. Training will take place in the Women’s Centers supported by the Council and will target provinces with the highest maternal mortality rates such as Ghazni, Baghlan, and Badakhshan. The first class of village midwives from Jalabad will graduate in April 2004, having completed an 18-month long program. This pilot program is being replicated across Afghanistan. For each new midwife the U.S. is supporting a life time of lives saved.
Current and Future InitiativesEducational Programs. The Council’s next big initiative will focus on educational programs and exchanges for U.S. NGOs to develop with Afghan partnering organizations for the provincial Women’s Resource Centers. The United States will fund programs in job skills training, literacy, and political participation. These projects are scheduled to begin in late Spring 2004.
Individual Initiatives. In addition to the Council’s general activities, members are actively working to start their own projects. For example, the project Arzu (which means “hope” in Dari) is underway, and in early 2004 produced its first numbered carpet for export. The Arzu project, not only creates jobs and a “cottage industry” through the production and marketing of quality “tribal” carpets and other handicrafts, but also recirculates some of its profits to support microcredit initiatives and additional training for women. Another project is an adopt-a-school program where church communities in Texas are providing their adopted school with school supplies, textbooks, and training.