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Charlotte (Charlie) Ponticelli Hosts "Ask the State Department"

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Welcome to "Ask the State Department" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to State Department officials.

Charlotte (Charlie) Ponticelli, Senior Coordinator, International Women's Issues, discussed International Women's Day and Women's History Month. 

Charlotte ,Charlie, Ponticelli, Senior Coordinator, International Womens Issues
Charlotte (Charlie) Ponticelli
Senior Coordinator, International Women's Issues

March 10, 2006

Charlotte (Charlie) Ponticelli:

I am delighted to "chat" with you this morning about the U.S. commitment to women around the globe as part of the State Department's celebration of International Women s Day this week, and our month-long celebration of Women's History in March. We join the rest of the world in saluting women worldwide and celebrating the contributions made to advance justice, dignity, and opportunity for women. We also reaffirm our commitment of solidarity with women who still struggle for freedom in repressive societies.

This week, President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush welcomed new Afghan and Iraqi women political leaders to the White House to mark the occasion of International Women's Day, and to spread the message that, as the President affirmed: "America will help women stand up for their freedom, no matter where they live."

Nations cannot prosper when women, who represent half the population, are excluded or marginalized. The defense and advancement of women's rights, opportunity, and participation are integral to the broader goals of advancing freedom, democracy, prosperity, and human rights in every society. I am proud that the Bush administration has made women's empowerment at all levels a key element of U.S. foreign policy.

Now, with great interest I welcome to your questions and thoughts about the advancement of women's rights, empowerment, and opportunity.

NH writes:

I recently heard a story on National Public Radio, about how Afghan women were being forced into arranged marriages. This one woman lost her husband and married someone out of financial necessity.

Charlotte (Charlie) Ponticelli:

Afghan women are currently making great strides in terms of attaining a new and stronger voice in the reconstruction of their country. But it's true, they still have a lot of challenges ahead. We are very concerned about the continuing problems of forced and early marriages which will take time to overcome. We will continue to spotlight these problems and to provide the women of Afghanistan with the tools they tell us they need -- education, legal awareness, political and economic skills, access to healthcare -- so that they are less vulnerable and more empowered. Education is key, and we're happy to note that more than 5 million Afghan children are now in school, and about 40 percent of them are girls and young women.


Are there any programs out there that might link American women interested in starting a small business, with women in Afghanistan that make crafts and art?

Charlotte (Charlie) Ponticelli:

Yes, there are are! Women throughout Afghanistan tell us almost every day that jobs and economic opportunity are priority number one, and essential to addressing their other concerns for peace and security. That is why women's entrepreneurship is such a key part of our US-Afghan Women's Council (USAWC). USAWC is a public-private partnership that links American businesses and business leaders and NGO's with potential partners on the ground in Afghanistan. If you go to our website www.state.gov/g/wi and click on "U.S. Commitment to Women" you will find fact sheets highlighting many of the programs that have helped Afghan women start their own businesses, including a hand-knotted rug enterprise called "Arzu" which means hope in Dari, a fabulous example linking American business women with women in Afghanistan. Also Under Secretary for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs, Josette Sheeran Shiner is working on an initiative "businesses building bridges" which she and Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, Paula Dobriansky discussed with a visiting Afghhan delegation just this week. In so many ways, Afghan women entrepreneurs are changing the landscape of Afghanistan!

Carolina writes:

During an event at the American Corner in Managua, one participant asked a question about women's role in the farming sector in the U.S. How can you define/explain American women's role the agricultural sector in the last century? Are there statistics available?

Charlotte (Charlie) Ponticelli:

The United States recognize the importance of women to the farming sector. We are proud of the role American women have always played in America's agricultural sector, and we'd be glad to refer you to our colleagues at USDA for additional information. Agriculture is an especially important area for most nations' economies, and for countries in transition like Afghanistan, for example, agriculture can be a critical avenue for job creation for women, and perhaps particularly in those areas where we want to help the Afghan people create alternative livelihoods to replace poppy cultivation.

Melanie writes:

What do you see as the single greatest achievement for women's rights in the past century?

Charlotte (Charlie) Ponticelli:

This is a great question as we celebrate Women's History Month and, just two days ago, International Women's Day. We think the greatest achievement is that increasingly all across the world, women are becoming agents of change in their societies, and women's issues here at the State Departmnnent have become inextricably linked to the pillars of U.S. foreign policy: democracy and freedom, economic opportunity and development, peace and stability.

Boris writes:

How much important is the election of Bachelet in Chile, for the rest of Latin America? It is the beginning of a generational and cultural change in the region or it is only the natural step of a country like Chile? What is your opinion about the election of Bachelet in Chile? Thank you.

Charlotte (Charlie) Ponticelli:

The election of Michelle Bachelet, the first women in Latin America to be elected president of her country, is significant not just for her country and her region but for the world, just as Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's election in Liberia. When women leaders such as these step up after many years of struggle and attain such a high leadership position, people everywhere take notice, and it's a victory for democracy. As I heard President Bush say at the White House this week, "the increasing participation of women in civic and political life has strengthened democracies."

Nassif writes:

Good day. I would like to ask the question, how do you feel about promoting civic education "A la American" (i.e. how it is taught in America) to all the women in the world, I want to wish you a beautiful day.

Charlotte (Charlie) Ponticelli:

Thank you! Civic education is always valuable, whether here in America or elsewhere. Many of the women we've been working closely with in both Iraq and Afghanistan often tell us about the pressing need, especially for illiterate women in the rural areas, to learn about their new rights and responsibilities under their new constitutions. Awareness of both rights and responsibilities in a democracy is especially needed in schools and universities. An educated citizenry is a key element for a strong democracy. Of course, our model of civic education may not always be appropriate for other societies, but we have many programs that illustrate the different models. Everybody has to find their own way.

Sarah writes:

What are the positive and negative aspects on women of state policies controlling the number of children a woman may have?

Charlotte (Charlie) Ponticelli:

We are deeply concerned about such policies that oppress women and families. The State Department just released the very comprehensive annual Human Rights Report, and I encourage you to take a look at if for more information on this important issue.

Amy writes:

Do you see an overall trend toward the acceptance of female leaders around the world?

Charlotte (Charlie) Ponticelli:

In addition to the growing acceptance of women leaders, there also seems to be a growing acceptance by leaders -- women and men -- about the importance of standing up for women's human rights and equal opportunity. Women are stepping into leadership roles at all levels of society, as ministers, mayors, governors, members of parliament, educators, as business leaders, journalists, lawyers, civil society, and as we discussed above, as president.

Jane writes:

What were the lessons learned for women around the world from the Rwanda genocide? Is it true that a majority of their parliament is now women?

Charlotte (Charlie) Ponticelli:

Yes it is true that approximately half of the members of Rwanda's parliament are women, which is a truly remarkable development. There were many lessons from the genocide in Rwanda where sexual violence became a weapon of the genocide. One of the most important lessons is that women are not just victims, they can be a major force in moving their countries toward peace, democracy, and economic prosperity.

I would just like to add that U.S. foreign policies promote specific programs and activities designed to bolster the myriad aspects of women's empowerment. They include: training women to participate effectively in the political arena, reducing legal and social inequalities, expanding economic and educational opportunities, teaching women how to use computer technology and the Internet, and increasing access to better health care.

Charlotte (Charlie) Ponticelli:

This has been a fascinating and enriching exchange. I appreciate your questions and your interest in working together in advancing the cause of women’s rights, empowerment, and opportunity.

Empowered women become forces for democratic change and development. When women are allowed to freely express their own voices, receive education, and assume their rightful place, all members of society—men, women and children--benefit. 

We applaud the courage, strength, and resilience of women working for a brighter and hopeful future.  As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said to mark the occasion of International Women’s Day: “the advance of women’s rights and the advance of human liberty go hand in hand.”

Thank you for the chance to have such a timely and lively discussion

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