Remarks at a Conference on Women in AfghanistanSecretary of State Colin L. Powell
Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
November 19, 2001
Secretary Powell: Thank you. It is a great pleasure to welcome you all here this afternoon, and I see so many friends in the audience that I dare not start around. But I do welcome you all. I'm sorry I'm a few minutes late. I'm just back from the University of Louisville, where I gave a speech on the world and also on the Middle East, and from here I'll be moving directly to a Cabinet meeting with Secretary Veneman and Mr. Todd Whitman, our Administrator of the EPA. And we'll be going to meet the President shortly.
But I did not want this meeting to go forward without having an opportunity to come by and let you know that I, as a personal matter, and all my colleagues in the State Department, fully support President Bush's commitment to ensure that the women of Afghanistan have a voice in the future of their country.
Denied education, denied health care, denied the opportunity to work and feed their families, denied the most basic forms of self-expression, the women of Afghanistan were made prisoners in their own country, even in their own homes. The conditions under which the women of Afghanistan have been forced to live are unimaginable. There is absolutely nothing in the faith of Islam to justify their cruel treatment at the hands of the Taliban.
And I want you to know that President Bush and this entire Administration cannot imagine a stable, post-Taliban Afghanistan without the involvement of women in all aspects of the humanitarian reconstruction and development efforts that will be undertaken. (Applause.)
During these years of great suffering, the women of Afghanistan have been the backbone of the Afghan society. It is in large measure a thanks to their endurance, their ingenuity, 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. (Applause.)
I cannot tell you what a pleasure it was for me in the newspaper this morning to see that woman come out with all of the children she had secretly been teaching over all those years, at such great personal risk. And especially, last night, to see in my television screen, the television station opening up in Kabul again, working. Somebody had kept it ready. And there we had the three anchors, two women and a man.
And so I am not worried about the women of Afghanistan taking care of themselves. (Laughter.) They will be heard, and they will be seen. (Applause.) And from what we hear of your efforts and what we hear from all of you, and from the reports that are streaming out of the country now as the Taliban retreat, the women of Afghanistan, as we have seen in recent days, are eager and ready to resume their active participation in the life of the country.
These remarkable women include lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers and civic leaders. Many have taken great risks, as we saw, to teach their daughters and to preserve and practice their professional skills in secret. They have helped one another and their children to keep hope alive for the moment when their rights could be restored, for the moment when they could reemerge into the sunlight and help their country onto freedom's path.
That day is near, very near. In fact, the dawn has broken. And when the light is fully shed throughout all of Afghanistan, the United States is committed to working to ensure not only that the women of Afghanistan regain their place in the sun, but they have a place in their future government as well. (Applause.)
The new government of Afghanistan must be broad-based and representational, and that means it must include women. It must respect the rights of Afghan women to choose how they will participate in their society. In every message that we have taken out to the new potential leaders of Afghanistan, we have emphasized the point that whatever comes after the Taliban must be broad-based, must include every element of Afghan society.
We have taken this message to other countries, to the United Nations, and to the Afghans themselves. The report that we just issued on Saturday makes our commitment clear. And just last Friday, my representative to the Afghan opposition, Ambassador Jim Dobbins, met with Afghan women in Peshawar, Pakistan. We wanted to do that early to send a strong signal.
And tomorrow, Treasury Secretary O'Neill and I will co-host, with Mrs. Sadako Ogata, Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan's personal representative on Afghanistan. We will all co-chair a kickoff conference on major donors and international institutions for the reconstitution, the reconstruction of Afghan society. We will affirm our collective commitment to rebuild Afghanistan schools and hospitals, restore agriculture and small-scale enterprises, de-mine roads and villages. In all of these efforts and more, we will insist the women play prominent roles as planners, implementers, and beneficiaries. (Applause.)
Under Secretary Dobriansky and I welcome your thoughts and suggestions on how we can improve the lot of women and girls of Afghanistan and help them become full participants in the future of their country. We want to continue to work in partnership with you in these crucial weeks and months ahead and in the years that follow. You are the last people that need convincing that this must be a long-term effort.
The State Department's Office of International Women's Issues, which comes under Under Secretary Dobriansky's direct authority, will serve as your key point of contact. Before I turn the floor over to Paula, I want to emphasize that the United States' strong support for the rights of the women of Afghanistan did not suddenly appear after September 11th. It is longstanding, it is bipartisan, and it is more determined than ever.
We are at a historic moment in the life of that country. A despotic regime is on its last legs. It's a regime that has subjected the people of Afghanistan to the most terrible deprivations. But they are on their way out. But we will fail in our overall campaign and mission if we don't now come together as an international community to feed the people of Afghanistan with such desperate need this coming winter. And if we do everything we can to help reconstitute Afghan society and give people hope for a better future, we will not fail. And with your help, I'm sure we will not fail.
Thank you very, very much.
Now, I have to leave for a Cabinet meeting and take two of my colleagues with me. But I would now like to turn the meeting over to Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky, who is doing just a great job with our women's issues and these sorts of global issues.
Paula, all yours.
Undersecretary Dobriansky: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Your support and commitment to restoring the rights of Afghan women demonstrate the importance the Bush administration attaches to it. I think this is further shown by a number of senior administration officials who also have joined us. I would like to recognize, we had with us, as you know, Administrator Whitman and Secretary Veneman. We also have here today a number of members of Congress: the Women's Caucus co-chair, Congresswoman Judy Biggert, and Juanita Millender-McDonald, and Congresswoman Connie Morella. Welcome to all of you. (Applause.)
I'd also like to recognize my colleagues. I know they're here -- Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, Labor, Lorne Craner, -- right back here. (Applause.) And also the Assistant Secretary for Education and Cultural Affairs, Patricia Harrison, who's right over here. (Applause.) And I'd also like to recognize two ambassadors who are with us who have given us the benefit of their thoughts in a session -- an expert session that we had, in which we tried to look at this issue from a very broad perspective. We have with us Ecuador's ambassador to the United States, Ivonne A-Baki and -- (applause) -- and also Morocco's ambassador to the United States, Ambassador El- Maaroufi. (Applause.)
Well, as you have heard in the words of the president, Mrs. Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld, and so many other leaders, the full participation of women is crucial to the rebuilding of Afghanistan, and the United States government, in cooperation with its partners, will continue to work for the restoration of human rights, particularly women's rights, in Afghanistan.
Afghan women can play an important role in the reconstruction and rebuilding of their country. Unfortunately, women and children have been so disproportionately affected by Taliban misrule, conflict and chaos.
We have been supporting Afghan women for years, and we will continue to do so as an integral part of our Afghan policy. We have been vocal about the need to restore their rights, ever since the Taliban began its repressive rule. In fact, we have provided over $178 million in humanitarian assistance in the past fiscal year, and the president has announced $320 million more in October. These funds support maternal and child health programs, community health education, primary education, and literacy programs for women, just to name a few. We fund also, I think, a significant program and in which Afghan women train their peers -- other Afghan women -- how to be teachers, how to be educators. And then those teachers go on to educate refugee women and children in basic literacy and community skills. I have no doubt that these women will carry these vital skills back to their communities one day.
In addition to these programs, we will support the restoration of Afghan women's rights and the role they can play in a vibrant Afghan society. It was moving to read the recent reports of Afghan women returning to their jobs at the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees operation and the World Food Program. These are just to mention literally two occurrences that just took place, where women who were in jobs in 1996, returned to their jobs at the UNHCR and at the World Food Program. (Applause.)
We have spoken to many people who share our support of Afghan women: Afghan women and men, congress members, domestic and international NGOs, and Islamic scholars. I am struck in all of these discussions, and the dialogue which has ensued, by the unity across political lines, ideological lines, national, ethnic lines, of the voices that support Afghan women. I believe it strengthens our message that these are universal rights that we believe should be restored to Afghan women; that these women have a stake in their future, that they should choose the role that they play in Afghan society.
We just had a meeting, as I referred to, with about 15, maybe about 20, key scholars, diplomats and Afghan interest-group leaders, to hear their thoughts about how we can strengthen our support of women at large in Islamic societies, and in Afghanistan in particular.
I'm really thankful for their wealth of knowledge and their recommendations. This can certainly build upon a number of the recommendations that we have also heard last week, and then, no less, this afternoon. We will definitely pursue many of the ideas that they have shared.
Released on November 19, 2001