Good morning everyone. Salam Alaikum.
First, I would like to recognize his Excellency CEO Dr. Abdullah, the Minister of Women’s Affairs, the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Dr. Sima Samar, Dr. Sorabi and other distinguished guests who are here with us today. The U.S. government is extremely proud to be partnering with you and with the Afghan Government on Musharikat, on Promote and on women's issues, more generally.
I have a prepared speech, but I am going to put it aside. Very important things have been said today by the previous speakers, and I would like to speak from the heart about the issues which impact on women in Afghanistan, and what the U.S. and the International Community, more broadly, are trying to do in response to that situation.
As you know, this is a year of definition of the international community's engagement with Afghanistan. The issue of security was touched on by one of the speakers. Well, in two months, there will be a conference in Warsaw, a NATO Summit, in which the international partners of Afghanistan will make their commitment to this country, to the Afghan security forces, to the security of Afghan people for the next four years. In six months, five months from now, we will have a development conference in Brussels hosted by the European Union and that will decide the commitment of the international community to Afghanistan, again, through 2020, or four years from now. A critical part of that conference will be a side meeting to discuss women's issues in Afghanistan and what we can do more proactively to engage.
What I do want to suggest is we are in a new moment of definition. I think it was Safia Siddiqi discussing the economic issues who said there is need for more − there is need for more from donors, from the government. You don’t want just tailoring programs. You want empowerment. And, as we look at how these programs will be structured in the coming years, we will be looking at the issue of empowerment.
There have been questions about what Promote means, why are we committing $ 200 million over the next five years to women's issues here. I cannot think of a better response to the critics than the 300 women who are here today. You are the new beginning. You are the new definition. We are, as Dr. Abdullah said, reaching out beyond the capital. We are listening. You are defining the issues which are of concern to Afghan women at the most central levels. And, so, as you focus on education, as you focus on violence, as you focus on economic empowerment, know that we are redefining our programs so that we can be supportive in all of these aspects.
What is most critical is that you represent a network, a network that all of us, again, as Dr. Abdullah pointed out, we hope to see built across the next five years − raising your voice, making the issues more public, finding a way to reach not just other women but men in this society. This is going to be a critical part of what we do. And, it is an enormous responsibility that you carry.
As you work going forward, I think it is important also to recognize what has been achieved. The last 15 years have established a very strong foundation. Yes, 73% of girls do not have access to secondary education or do not go on to secondary education. But, 15 years ago, there were no girls in primary school. Yes, we need to do better at opening the opportunities for university level education. But, as we speak − and many of you here are beneficiaries of − a transformation which now has tens of thousands of young women in university, an extraordinary foundation for all 34 provinces in this country to build on.
As we look at what this government, in particular, has attempted to do − promoting women into leadership positions, ministerial positions, deputy minister jobs, changes inside the bureaucracies of different government ministries, and, looking to appoint women into provincial positions of authority − a change in how politics is being pursued is being carried out here that is extraordinarily significant.
When we talk about supporting women’s issues, it is critical to remember that it is not just through promoting networks; it is not through capacity building in the context of what we are doing with Promote. USAID and other U.S. government agencies are heavily engaged in all aspects of economic and social development that impact on the opportunities for women.
We work in economic growth and empowerment. We work through programs like ABADE to support small and medium size entrepreneurs, many of them women.
We work in the agricultural sector to help change the way work is done so people can have more free time to focus on education and other development concerns.
We work, as everyone knows, on education, and our focus now on university level education across the country, across different universities, is going to have a dramatic impact in the coming years in opening doors.
We work on health. Without basic health services in the country, it is impossible for women as leading their families to be able to make advances and to have the strength to proceed on other development objectives they all have.
So, as we look forward, what we hope is that what is happening over the last few days, what has happened in your discussions, is going to be the foundation for something permanent.
We need to continue this. We need to have you meet on a regular basis. We need to support you. You need to raise your voices. And, we need to incorporate this into how we all work together − as donors, as government going forward and as human beings − to make the transformation we are all hoping for possible.
A final note, I would just like to say the three speakers who presented − Zala Ahmad, Mariam Zurmati and Safia Seddiqi − did a beautiful job of summarizing what the concerns in each of those areas are. If we can even begin to work on some of that in the coming months, we can start a very fundamental change and build in a very rapid manner on what we have achieved together already.
So, I wish you the best of luck in your work going forward. We thank you for taking the trouble, the time to come to Kabul and spend the time away from your provinces, from your work, from your families. I believe we have started something new here.
The best of success to all of you. Thank you very much.