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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Office of International Women's Issues > Remarks > 2006 International Women's Issues Remarks > U.S. Commitment to Women

U.S. Commitment to Afghan Women: The U.S.-Afghan Women's Council

Fact Sheet
Office of International Women’s Issues

"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

After the fall of the Taliban, the United States launched an historic initiative to help elevate the status of women in Afghanistan. On January 28, 2002, President George W. Bush and Afghan Interim Authority Chairman Hamid Karzai announced the creation of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council  . The Council promotes public-private partnerships between U.S. and Afghan institutions, and mobilizes private sector resources to help Afghan women gain the skills and education that they were denied under years of Taliban misrule. It focuses on concrete actions that help to bring real and practical benefits to the women of Afghanistan, enabling them to participate and play leadership roles in the political and economic life of their country. To this end, the Council has made education and microfinance its top priorities.


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.

  • Inaugural Meeting. The inaugural meeting took place in Washington, DC. in April 2002. As a result of discussions about women’s needs and priorities and in response to a request from the Afghan side, the Council later announced its first initiative would bring Afghan women who work in government ministries to the United States for an educational exchange program. The program focused on computer training, leadership and management training, and other skills vital to their positions. President Bush sent a letter of greetings to the inaugural Council session expressing his support for the Council.
  • January 2003. At the Council’s second meeting in Kabul, the United States announced that it would provide $2.5 million for women’s resource centers in 14 of Afghanistan’s provinces. The Council also committed $1 million in education and exchange programs for the centers. Programs at these centers will focus on basic education literacy, microfinance and small business opportunities, human rights education, and the development and management of non-governmental organizations (NGO). The U.S. delegation visited several projects for women that the United States and the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council supports. One site was the Widow's Bakery, which is run by the World Food Program. Widows earn an income by baking bread, which in turn, is provided to the poor in Kabul. The Council delegation also visited a quilting project that helps widows earn an income while producing quilts needed by the poor for the harsh winter. They also visited a Women's Resource Center where they saw job skills training and literacy programs. Upon their return home, the U.S. delegation met with President Bush to brief him on their mission to Afghanistan.
  • July 2003. The Council’s third meeting in Washington, DC in July 2003 focused on several key issues for women, including the educational needs of women and girls, job skills training and business development. In the area of women’s political participation, discussions focused on the status of women in the constitutional framework and preparing women for the upcoming 2004 elections. The Delegation met with First Lady Laura Bush and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice at the White House, and Secretary of State Colin Powell hosted a luncheon in their honor. They also had a chance to meet with USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios, and other key figures. The Afghan delegation then visited Texas, where they were hosted by Council member Karen Hughes, and had the opportunity to visit American sites and meet with local officials.
  • February 2004. The fourth meeting of the Council was held in Kabul February 24-26 2004. Council members reviewed programs and progress on implementation of initiatives. Discussions focussed on the new constitution and the upcoming elections in 2004. The delegation visited a Women Center and met with project managers of programs supported by the U.S. Government and by the US-Afghan Women’s Council. The Council also agreed to support a number of specific initiatives, such as an American School in Kabul, a woman’s teacher training institute, a $5 million USAID funded project to train midwives throughout rural Afghanistan. In addition the Council stressed the need to move forward with the construction of 17 Women’s Resource Centers. Private-sector Council members also announced several new programs, including a $10,000 Rockefeller Foundation contribution to a Department of State funded project to train Afghan women’s judges. Daimler Chrysler contributed $25,000 to construct another 5 community banks to support microfinance loans for women in Heart province. And PBS gave $20,000 to AINA, a Kabul-based media training NGO, for broadcast rights to the film “Afghanistan Unveiled.” The “Afghanistan Unveiled” film chronicles an Afghan Women’s Oral History project and training of women journalists that the State Department/USAID initiated and funded. The project created jobs for women in the media and sustaining revenues for AINA to continue its work to create a free and independent media in Afghanistan.


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.

Digital Video Conference. The Council has used digital video conference (DVC) technology to connect Kabul, Washington and New York, setting up links for discussions and mentoring sessions between women in these cities. The most recent DVC, in November 2003, focused on women’s political participation in Afghanistan’s draft constitution and the upcoming elections in 2004. The previous DVC, in April 2003, focused on the topic of women and business.

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 Initiatives

Educational 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.

“During these years of great suffering, the women of Afghanistan have been the backbone of Afghan society. It is in large measure thanks to their endurance, their ingenuity, and their courage that their country has survived. The recovery of Afghanistan must entail the restoration of the rights of Afghan women. Indeed, it will not be possible without them. The rights of the women of Afghanistan will not be negotiable.” [full text]

-- Secretary of State Colin L. Powell
November 19, 2001

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