Honorees, distinguished guests, journalists and friends crowded inside the Benjamin Franklin room at the State Department on March 21 to congratulate the members of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council on the 10th anniversary of supporting the women of Afghanistan.
Founded in 2002 by President George W. Bush and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, the council connects both U.S. and Afghan governments with the private sector, academia and non-governmental organizations to identify needs and to develop and implement initiatives to support Afghan women and girls. The council is based at Georgetown University.
“There is an Afghan proverb: A good year is determined by its spring. I think that is a worthy proverb to keep in mind, and indeed it is a call to action for us to be sure that the spring sets the pace for the kind of good year we hope to see in Afghanistan,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. “Let there be no doubt that even as the U.S. role in Afghanistan changes during the next few years of transition, we will continue to stand with and work closely with Afghan women.”
“Some may wonder if these efforts and partnerships truly make a difference,” said Zala Ahmad, a student from rural Afghanistan who now studies at Brandeis University in Massachusetts thanks to the council. “I can tell you firsthand that they do.”
While toasting the council with red glasses of hibiscus tea, dining on endive salads and Atlantic cod, and treating tastebuds to the sweet dessert served, a passion fruit clafouti, guests listened to Clinton, former First Lady Laura Bush, John DeGioia, president of Georgetown University, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer and several other speakers from Afghanistan involved with the council share stories and the astronomical differences in percentages of Afghan females now attending schools and even holding prominent positions.
“Girls make up about 40 percent of the nearly 8 million children going to school in Afghanistan today,” Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Zalmai Rassoul said. “In 2000, there were no girls at that time.” He also noted that 30 percent of school teachers and 15 percent of university teachers are women. Today, 24 percent of doctors and medical workers across Afghanistan are women.
Even with these positive numbers, he said Afghan women continue to be innocent victims, but the council has helped give them their opportunity back.
“God created a couple,” said Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York. “He did not create men first, women second. He created a couple at the same time. So, there is no way half of the couple can be inferior to the other half of the couple.”
After several rounds of applause credited to the amount of effort and success that has gone in to the council, both Clinton and Bush were presented awards for their dedication by Georgetown University. Clinton was given the Caring for Children Lifetime Achievement Award from the Center for Child and Human Development by DeGioia, who teased that Clinton has been fighting for the rights of women and children since she wrote her scholarly article in 1973 for the Harvard Educational Review. Bush received the Champion for Afghan Women Award from Verveer, who said Bush “led by example, mobilizing resources to ensure that Afghan women and girls gain skills, opportunities, and particularly the education that they were denied under the years of Taliban repression.”
When the luncheon was finished, Verveer said the program was over but the journey to continue fighting for the rights of Afghan women is not. “We hope that we will all continue to work together,” she said.