Womens Leadership Development Kabul, January 11, 2016

In the Name of God the Merciful the Compassionate
Distinguished Members of the Audience
Young graduates of the Womens Leadership Development
I come to you in Peace

My dear girls,

Remarks of the First Lady of Afghanistan at the Promote CommencementToday, we are all gathered here to mark the completion of your participation in the Women’s Leadership Development program—a component of the USAID Promote undertaking. You are the first group of Afghan young women to benefit from this program.
Throughout this program you have been encouraged to improve your listening and speaking skills, to project self-confidence and to increase your understanding of women’s role in today’s Afghan society. You have discussed cultural expectations as well as the existing Afghan legal framework that aims at establishing gender equity. Those of you who are inclined towards establishing themselves as active entrepreneurs in the business and economic world were introduced to the concepts of product design, business plan development, pricing and marketing. Those of you who would rather join the workforce were advised as to how to find a job, how to behave on the job, and how to fend off unwanted harassment on the job. Finally, all of you were taught how to persevere in your efforts by learning how to manage your finances and how to build support networks. You have learned a lot!
Now, you have to put this knowledge to work. And here let me share with you this story. A few days ago, I was talking to my brother who has just been blessed with a grandson. After congratulating him I inquired about the young parents as this is their first baby. He laughed and said: “well, they have read all the books and thought they knew everything; but now they have to face the reality of having a baby…”
Yes,you have been given the skills and the tools to face the world around you. But very soon you will discover that reality is never as predictable and logical as books and theories will have you think. Your acquired knowledge is invaluable on condition that you figure out how to apply it to the actual context in which each one of you lives.

Indeed, each community has its own vocabulary, its own sets of rules, its own expectations. As a first step, now that you have an idea of what goals you want to pursue, you need to discover the world around you. Some of you are probably thinking: “but I know the world I live in, I have known it since my birth”. Still, look around you, ask questions from your family, from your neighbors, from your friends. Learn your history—Afghanistan has a very rich history and each community has its own variation—find old pictures, old movies, learn your own family history. Learn your culture: discover how this culture has evolved over the years and the centuries. Learn your religion: its changing role, its changing emphasis, read the Holy Quran it is a book that is meant to be read by everyone, discover the passages that are relevant to you.

The reason why I am insisting on you rediscovering your roots is that, although the country finds itself today in a very difficult situation, Afghanistan has had much more prosperous and productive periods in history. Do not discard these memories. On the contrary try to revive them by working through the existing framework.

You want to bring change to the situation as it is today. If you want the change you champion to be efficient and long term, you need to work from within your society. You need to build on those aspects that are positive, the existing support networks such as the extended family, the culture of mediation, the tradition of helping each other, and so on.

And throughout, be patient, adjust your expectations, be persistent, use your brain and logic, do not lash out in anger, and always behave in a respectful manner. Your showing respect to others will earn you respect from them. And once you are respected, your voice will be heard.
And keep in mind that the ultimate goal should always be to rebuild this beautiful country of ours into a harmonious and prosperous country where both men and women can live a happy and fulfilling life.