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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs > Releases > Public Statements on South and Central Asian Policy > 2003

Press Availability at the Ministry of Women's Affairs

Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs
Afghan Minister of Women's Affairs Habiba Sorabi, Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Abdullah, Counselor to President George W. Bush, Karen Hughes
Kabul, Afghanistan
January 8, 2003

Under Secretary Dobriansky: It is a pleasure to talk to you about the first meeting in Kabul of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council. Also I would like to tell you that in terms of our discussions we have focused on the kind of blueprint for action which the Afghans have set forth for themselves. The emphasis on education, the emphasis on micro-enterprise, the emphasis also on the importance of health care, on human rights. These are the kinds of issues that we in fact have discussed during the council meeting. And then I would like to say that I specifically announced in fact that we would contribute, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), $2.5million in support of the creation of the Women Resource Centers in 14 provinces. In addition, we also will in fact put up $1 million in support of educational programs covering the topics that were touched upon today: the establishment of small businesses, the management of NGOs, the importance of human rights, the importance of education, in other words, NGOs will be funded as they compete for grants in this area given the total amount of money is $1 million.

I also announced a number of contributions that have been made by a number of private corporations and private participants. For example, Daimler-Chrysler is putting forward its intent to set up an entrepreneurial leadership symposium and entrepreneurial leadership set of awards. In addition, AOL Time Warner has contributed and in fact brought together monies to contribute to the Women Resource Centers in the total of $60,000. So, in sum, these were the types of issues we discussed today and these were the contributions that were concretely put on the table. I don't know if our co-chairs, Minister Sorabi or Minister Abdullah, would like to say something.

Minister of Women's Affairs Sorabi (speaking in Dari): Today's meeting, which was attended by Paula Dobriansky, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, focused on the U.S.-Afghan Women'sCouncil. The meeting was initiated by Presidents Bush and Karzai in the United States for the progress and development of Afghan women.

During the meeting, the United States and Under Secretary Dobriansky announced the donation of $2.5 million for the Women Resource Centers in the provinces. This amount will enable us to build the department of women's affairs in fourteen provinces of the country in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).We signed the agreement in this respect. Also, an additional amount of one million dollars was donated to Afghan women for educational issues and in the operation of handicrafts and other spheres of the private sector to promote the self-reliance of women. Also some private organizations have also given donations to Afghan women that could be spent jointly with some NGOs and the Government. Most of these donations will be spent on self-reliance and education, a major shortcoming of the Afghan women and people.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Abdullah (in English): Once again, on behalf of the government of Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan,we appreciate and we are grateful that the U.S. delegation led by Mrs.Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State, visited Afghanistan on this occasion. The establishment of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council in itself was an important step towards enhancing the role of women in Afghanistan, in creating links between American women and Afghan women, once again in the line of promoting the rights of women as well as enhancing their situation in Afghanistan. But the fact that this time around the second meeting is taking place in Kabul is a really historical event.

You can imagine, 16 months ago, what was happening in this soil just right in this place where we are standing right now and other areas in our city: torture, tyranny against the nation, while women and children as the most vulnerable sections of society suffered the most in a widespread way because of the official policy, the announced policy, in defiance of the will of the Afghan people and the international community, by the ruling authorities in the major part of the country. So the change from that situation to this situation, Ithink I consider a major turnaround in the history of mankind. While terrorism was very much on the rise in this soil, today we see not only that it is not taking place - of course, there is a need for thecontinuation of the campaign against terror much has been achieved in that field. Not only that, but talking about 24-25 million population out of which half, or 60% of the population, are women. So the life of every single woman and man in this country has changed forthe better as far as the policy of the government is concerned but that is not the end of the road, that is rather the beginning. But itis a very good beginning, a very bright beginning of the road, we need to move forward with the help of our friends in the international community. We are grateful for the assistance by the US government, by the people of the United States in all fields. Once again, thank you for coming.

NBC News: (garbled)...what do you think are some of the biggest challenges for Afghan women (unintelligible)?

Under Secretary Dobriansky: Well I would say two things. I think even in our discussion today there were a number of issues in which we have seen some progress in but, in which more progress is needed, in thefield, for example, of education. We had a very extensive and, Ithink, very full and rich discussion about the importance of education, at the lower level and at the higher level. This is crucial, this is crucial to the development of any society and inparticular, women have a role to play. And by having a full education, it can only be, not only a benefit to them personally, but also certainly to the future fabric of Afghanistan as it goes forward.

Another area that we also touched upon is the importance of economic growth and the role that women can play as entrepreneurs if given the opportunity, given the chance, given training, skills and given resources on which to build upon. I have to say I was very encouraged and heartened by hearing the discussion that took place in our council meeting about the importance attached to entrepreneurship, small business, micro-enterprise. We also talked about the importance of human rights, that as any society transitions, that it is also important, the rights of all. Certainly, our focus today is on women, but we are talking about the rights of all citizens, the importance of a vibrant civil society.

Associated Press: You mention the $2.5 million and the $1 million, are they separate or is the one million part of the other amount?

Under Secretary Dobriansky: It is separate. The $2.5 million is provided by U.S. Agency for International Development. The one million dollars which is being put on the table will in fact be put out in an RFP (Request for Proposal) which is an announcement by which NGOs can come forward and apply for a specific grant. There will be, in other words, a formal solicitation but that is separate from the $2.5 million. And then I mentioned additionally some other monies that were put on the table, actually in the total of some $80,000 which has been provided by a private corporation that has step forward.

Washington Post: Is there anything that Karen Hughes would like to say for herself or for the President?

Counselor to the President Hughes: On behalf of the entire delegation, I think all of us are delighted to be here. Under Secretary Dobriansky invited me to come and when she called me and asked me to come to Afghanistan I was eager to do so because I had been looking forward to visit here.  I, of course, asked the President because I don't do much without asking the President, and he encouraged me to come and as a symbol of his personal commitment to the people of Afghanistan. He has said that America is committed to helping in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, America is committed to helping rally the world, to help reconstruct Afghanistan. We have confidence that Afghanistan can govern herself but we also know that you need a great deal of help, with resources and reconstruction in order to get to a position to do that. He encouraged me to come and demonstrate his personal commitment by being here.

Washington Post: (unintelligible) about women wearing burqas?

Counselor to the President Hughes: Well, we talked to the Ambassador on the way from the airport, I'll let Under Secretary Dobriansky speak for herself, but I was a little surprised to see so many women still in burqas. That is, of course, their choice and one of the things we all is respect the independence of the women to make that choice. I hope that it is a choice and not out of fear. One of the things that we heard in the meeting is that there is still a substantial amount of fear and so I think one of the whole purposes of a delegation of largely women visiting from the United States of America is to maybe provide some small sense of encouragement to the women of Afghanistan.

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