Departure StatementPaula Dobriansky,
Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs
U.S.-Afghan Women's Council
January 9, 2003
Good afternoon to all of you and thank you for coming. Our delegation has just concluded a very fruitful two-day visit focused on supporting Afghans, especially women, as they rebuild their country. I believe all of you should have in your press packet a list of our entire delegation members and many of them have just come in and are seated right there. Now our primary order of business was to convene the second meeting of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council. It is a public-private partnership dedicated to mobilizing resources to help Afghan women obtain the training and education they were long denied. I co-chair the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council along with Minister Sarabi, the Minister of Women's Affairs, and Foreign Minister Abdullah. The council itself was established last year by President Bush and President Karzai.
Now this morning, as a delegation, we had meeting with President Karzai. He received our delegation members and our message to the President was as follows: First, we indicated to him the importance we attach to our relationship with Afghanistan. We care a great deal about Afghanistan's future. We also had indicated to him that the United States plans to stand shoulder to shoulder with Afghanistan, in other words, we have a long-term commitment to the reconstruction and humanitarian needs of Afghanistan during this time of transition. We also talked about the importance of trying to help Afghans move forward on their blueprint of action, meaning that we can provide help, assistance, resources, guidance, but we want to be guided by Afghans in different areas by what they deem to be the appropriate steps forward.
Also, significantly, we talked with President Karzai about the establishment of the Women Resource Centers and, of course, indicated to him that yesterday we had a signing ceremony, in fact, with Minister Abdullah as well as Minister Sarabi in which we had indicated that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is committed to contributing $2.5 million dollars for the creation, meaning the construction, of Women Resource Centers in 14 provinces. And with President Karzai, we told him that this, we believe, complements the very strategy that he has articulated, the importance of taking action outside of Kabul and going into the provinces. In this case, very importantly, the Women Resource Centers would be constructed in 14 of the some 32 provinces here in Afghanistan. In addition, we also talked a bit about the one million dollars grant which we are contributing towards education at the Women Resource Centers. Specifically, we will provide one million dollars for educational programs in these centers. Education programs that will support literacy programs, programs relevant to human rights and learning about and knowing one's rights as well as the importance and development of small businesses, micro-enterprises, and the management of non-governmental organizations.
Now let me also say that during yesterday and today we also talked about the issue of how a country's future depends not only on education but also on economic opportunities. This is something that cannot be done by government alone, here there has to be complementary action undertaken by the private sector. Through the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, we are creating public-private partnerships to train women and provide these types of opportunities. For example, yesterday the delegation saw the results, in fact, of an income-generating project launched by First Lady Laura Bush. This was relevant to March 21, the opening of schools here in Afghanistan and providing uniforms for schoolgirls. At the Women Resource Center, we say in fact, women working on the school uniforms and this is an income-generating project. The U.S. Government sent materials that were donated by American companies to Afghanistan. The Ministry of Women's Affairs set up a sewing center where Afghan women are earning an income by making school uniforms for girls.
Now today, we had, among a number of opportunities, we went to see the Widow's Bakery which is run by the World Food Program. As you may know, the Widow's Bakery provides an income for those widows by making bread. The bread in turn is provided to those who are needy in Kabul. I have to say that it was very striking in terms of having the opportunity of meeting these women, speaking with them and seeing the dedication, the earnestness which they attach to the work. It was very gratifying. It was also very gratifying having also the opportunity to meet a number of the beneficiaries of their product, the bread. We also visited a women's resource center where there are literacy classes being conducted and having an opportunity to speak to the classes, the classes of young girls of different ages who we spoke to. We spoke to them about their dreams, about their aspirations.
Let me also mention the United States is supporting a unique environmental rehabilitation, employment and training program implemented by the Afghan Government in partnership with UN agencies. The Afghan Conservation Corps will support economic growth and political stability through rehabilitation of forests, dams, aquifers, irrigation systems and the promotion of soil conservation. At the same time that it does this, that it has these environmental benefits, it will also provide cash for work opportunities and train Afghans, in particular refugees, in the skills needed to rebuild Afghanistan. I am pleased to announce today that the United States Government will contribute one million dollars towards the establishment of this program of the Afghan Conservation Corps. We would like to see this program jump-started.
This morning we also had the occasion to have a round-table discussion with representatives from the Constitutional Commission, the Judicial Commission, as well as the Human Rights Commission. I think this discussion was important because these representatives tried to give us an indication of their work, and also the importance of the integration of their work. Clearly securing human rights, including the rights of women, is an essential part of ensuring, overall, as we see it, our goals and Afghanistan's goals here in Afghanistan. Political stability and the protection of human rights are complementary goals. To help advance these goals, I am also pleased to announce today that the United States will obligate funding this month for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. This is in addition to the financial support that we have rendered to the Constitutional and Judicial Commissions. Clearly a functioning independent judiciary, a strong and independent human rights commission, and a professional civil service will help form the backbone of Afghanistan as envisioned by the Bonn Agreement.
So let me say, in conclusion, we have had, I would say, really a most moving, a most productive, I think, a most constructive time here in Afghanistan. I will say also as I began with this morning, our discussion with President Karzai was an opportunity for us to underscore with him the importance of our relationship. We also appreciated his thoughts about the importance of our work, the importance of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council. We Americans and Afghans share a common set of objectives – an Afghanistan that is democratic, that is secure, that is stable, that is at peace with its neighbors, that is prosperous and that is respectful of human rights, including the rights of women. Let me say that this has been an extraordinary visit, renewing our faith in the determination and courage of Afghans, especially Afghan women to emerge from what, I think can be described as the dark night of the Taliban to build a society that serves your needs and, ultimately, that becomes an example of the triumph of the human spirit.