First Lady Laura Bush's Remarks at the National Center for Women DevelopmentFirst Lady Laura Bush
January 18, 2006
2:20 P.M. (Local)
Thank you very much. And thanks to everyone who is here today. I want to thank Mrs. Ciroma, Minister of Women's Affairs. Thank you for your very kind introduction. I want to thank everyone in Nigeria for their very, very warm welcome. I want to acknowledge the Minister of Education Madam Obaji for accompanying me today. She accompanied me everywhere we went. Thank you very much for joining me today. The Minister of Finance, who joined me at the roundtable today, and educated me a lot about what women can do in this role of finance, thank you very much for joining me today. And the Minister of Health, thank you very much for being here.
I also want to thank everyone else here who is a member of the government of Nigeria and all of you here who work with NGOs in Nigeria to make sure the men and women of Nigeria have a chance to develop healthy and successful lives.
Also today are representatives from UNESCO. I'm honored to serve as the Honorary Ambassador of the United Nations Decade for Literacy. The United States shares the goal of UNESCO to advance education for all. It should be our expectation that every child -- boy and girl, rich and poor -- has access to education.
I also want to thank the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell. Thank you very, very much for welcoming me here to your post.
I had a very interesting and informative discussion with some of Nigeria's women leaders today. Thank you very much to the Honorable Sani, Chair of the House of Representatives' Committee on Women's Affairs. Thank you for moderating our roundtable.
It's fitting that we meet here in this place. Esther Mangzha, the Director of the National Center for Women's Development, does wonderful work documenting the contributions Nigerian women have made and are still making to the development of their nation and the world.
The women I met today represent different parts of Nigerian society. Some serve in government. Others work for NGOs and international organizations. They all share the same goal, though, which is to give all women in Nigeria the opportunity to contribute to the life of their country.
The people of the United States share your goal, and the women of the United States know your struggle. It was only in the last century, 150 years after our Declaration of Independence, that women attained the vote in the United States. Young girls need role models whose lives are examples of achievement, and today I met some of the role models for Nigeria's girls.
It's increasingly common for African women to be leaders in their government. On Monday, the world witnessed the inauguration of Liberia's President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. (Applause.) President Johnson-Sirleaf is the first woman to be elected the leader of an African nation. This is a historic time -- for Liberia, for Africa, and for women everywhere. President Johnson-Sirleaf is an example for young women around the world of a woman who has risen to the top of her government through hard work, faith in democracy, and a belief in the power of education.
The question we must answer now is how do we nurture the development of the next generation of women leaders in Africa and worldwide. The answer begins with education. Education is the foundation of a happy and healthy life. Educated children grow up to be adults who have more opportunities to work, to support their families, and to fully participate in the life of their communities. It's so important to educate boys and girls, because boys and girls can make important contributions to our world.
Sadly, too many children around the world do not have access to education. The problem is particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa. More than one-third of primary school-age children are not enrolled in school at all. Of those who do enter the first grade, fewer than half will complete primary school. Books and other learning materials are often in short supply. It's not uncommon in rural areas to have just one copy of a textbook for a whole classroom. Girls, especially girls in rural villages, are much less likely than boys to attend school, and students who live in poverty have few opportunities for schooling because their parents do not have the money to pay their school fees or buy their uniforms and books.
The people of the United States believe in Africa's future. We know, as you do, that education is vital to a better future for all of the world's children, and we're working with you to make education available and accessible to more children in Africa.
Education in Africa is a priority for President Bush. His Africa Education Initiative is a $600 million commitment to provide books, scholarships, school uniforms and teacher training so that more children can attend school. The Africa Education Initiative includes funding to train 920,000 teachers in 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. As of December, more than 300,000 new and experienced teachers had received training. The Initiative has also facilitated the shipment of over two million books to African schools and libraries.
A major goal of President Bush's Africa Education Initiative is to enroll more girls in school. To meet that goal, the United States sponsors the Ambassadors Girls' Scholarship Program, which will provide 550,000 scholarships to girls at the primary and secondary level. So far, 120,000 scholarships have been provided in 40 countries. The scholarships pay for tuition, fees, books, uniforms, and other essential supplies.
This morning, I met a student named Glory, in the ninth grade at the Model Secondary School in Abuja. Glory's parents work hard, but they have difficulty paying for schooling for her and her siblings. Thanks to the Ambassadors Girls' Scholarship Program, Glory is able to stay in school and work with mentors who help her stay on the path to achieving her dreams.
I saw Glory at her school today, and she told me that her dream is to become a doctor so that she can help find a cure for diseases like HIV/AIDS. I'm encouraged by the hopes and dreams of young people. All children should have great dreams, and they should believe in a future where every dream is possible.
The people of the United States are pleased to work with schools in Nigeria to make education a reality for thousands of students. We support these scholarships, because we believe that investing in a child's education will produce benefits many times over in the future.
An educated woman is better able to provide for her family economically, and to be an advocate for her own children's education. She has the knowledge and the skills to find new ways to improve life in her community. She's prepared to be an active participant in society, and perhaps even a national leader.
Education produces many social benefits, and perhaps none greater than better health. The United States is working with governments and private organizations through Africa to prevent HIV/AIDS, and to provide treatment and care to those who are already infected by the disease. We all know that education is our greatest ally. Educated girls and boys are more likely to know what HIV is and how to prevent infection. Girls who are educated have more economic and social resources to rely on, and therefore can avoid early marriage and have more of a chance to negotiate their own sexual lives. In fact, educated young women have lower rates of HIV/AIDS, healthier families, and higher rates of education for their own children.
Through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the people of the United States are supporting treatment for more than 400,000 men, women and children in 15 focus countries, including 29,000 people in Nigeria. Our partnership with Nigeria has been vital to achieving this early success. The United States has a dedicated partner in the fight against HIV/AIDS in President Obasanjo. Long before experts thought it was possible, President Obasanjo believed treatment was possible in Africa and launched a treatment program in Nigeria. He champions antiretroviral treatments, not just for the people of Nigeria, but for all Africans, and he stood with President Bush and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan at the White House in the Rose Garden for the announcement of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
In 2004, the United States provided Nigeria with almost $71 million through the PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan, to prevent, treat and manage the effects of HIV/AIDS. In 2005, we provided more than $110 million, and I'm pleased to announce that in 2006, the United States is providing more than $163 million to overcome HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. (Applause.)
Resources from the United States support organizations that are already here on the ground, founded by Nigerians -- faith-based and other humanitarian groups that have long established relationships with the people in Nigeria. Earlier today, I visited one of those places -- St. Mary's Hospital. St. Mary's first partnered with the United States to provide treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Advances in drug therapies make it possible for women who are HIV-positive to give birth to babies who are free from the disease.
In South Africa last summer, I met several mothers who successfully prevented transmission of HIV to their children, and we're all hopeful that soon an entire generation will be born free from HIV. (Applause.)
This morning, antiretroviral drugs paid for by the people of the United States through PEPFAR were delivered to St. Mary's. These drugs will be used to treat more than 500 patients living with HIV/AIDS. I also saw the new laboratory at St. Mary's, which will allow the staff to perform the tests that are necessary to support the lifesaving antiretroviral treatment.
The United States is proud to work with the people of Nigeria on many important issues. We will continue to work together to help the next generation reach its full potential. When we provide education, better health care, and growing opportunities for women, every boy and every girl will know that they can be a part of Nigeria's bright future.
I'm much inspired by the warmth and the energy of the people I've met in Nigeria today. Thank you for your generous hospitality, thank you for your warm welcome, and may God bless the people of Nigeria. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
END 2:33 P.M. (Local)
Released on January 18, 2006