Remarks at the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council 10th Anniversary Celebration Luncheon

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
March 21, 2012

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s a great pleasure to welcome all of you to the State Department, to the Benjamin Franklin Room, for the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council. I look around this room and I see so many people who have helped to make the council a powerful engine for change both from Afghanistan and the United States. And I welcome warmly each and every one of you and applaud your commitment to supporting the women of Afghanistan as they strive to build better futures for themselves and their country.

Now, there are many people here who should be and deserve to be recognized because of your contributions here and in Afghanistan. But I will take the moment to acknowledge a few people in particular, starting first and foremost with Laura Bush. Laura Bush did so much to elevate and strengthen this council. Both in ways public and private, she became a passionate advocate for the rights and roles of women in Afghanistan, and she remains one of the strongest advocates today.

We were just talking at the table about some of the perks of being a first lady. (Laughter.) And one of them I learned from Elaine Chao, the former Secretary of Labor here, is that cabinet secretaries do take first ladies’ calls. (Laughter.) And when those calls are about supporting and finding money for and encouraging the women of Afghanistan, very often they were made by Mrs. Bush.

I want to thank the council’s U.S. co-chairs Melanne Verveer, our nation’s first and outstanding Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues; Jack DeGioia, President of Georgetown University, which has provided a home for the council since 2008 under the direction of Dr. Phyllis Magrab, the Director of the Center for Child and Human Development, who is also here. I wish to thank and acknowledge my counterpart and colleague, Afghan Foreign Minister Rassoul, and also the Afghan ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Hakimi. Thank you all for joining us.

I also wish to recognize Vartan Gregorian, the president of the Carnegie Corporation, whom you will hear from in a few minutes. He is an enthusiastic supporter of the council’s work, and I’m very grateful for his personal support of what the council is doing and so many of the initiatives on behalf of our country and our foreign policy.

And finally, I would like to recognize two other groups. Members of Congress who were here early, and I think are still here, let me ask them to stand so they can be recognized. Congresswomen Sheila Jackson Lee, Niki Tsongas, Carolyn Maloney, Donna Edwards, and Susan Davis. (Applause.)

And finally, I want to recognize the 10 Fulbright scholars from Afghanistan. Let me ask the 10 scholars to please stand. (Applause.)

Thanks to all who have joined us from the across the Obama and Bush Administrations, from Congress, the private sector, not-for-profit organizations, and academia: I think the diversity of backgrounds and experiences represented in this room reflects how committed the people of the United States are to the well-being and continued progress of the women of Afghanistan.

We come to this 10th anniversary from different perspectives and experiences as political leaders or business people, security or development experts, Republicans and Democrats, certainly men and women, but across our differences we wholeheartedly agree that the women of Afghanistan, like the women anywhere, are critical to their nation’s future. They deserve to have their human rights protected regardless of place, religion, culture, or any other circumstance, and they need and deserve our support.

We are meeting at a significant time of year. As you heard from Melanne, yesterday was the Persian New Year and the first day of spring. 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.

Now, I’m well aware that these past weeks have been especially challenging, so it is all the more important that we come together as partners, friends, and colleagues to celebrate the good things we have accomplished together and to rededicate ourselves to doing more in the months and years ahead.

For just a moment, think about the remarkable gains of this past decade. In 2001, life expectancy for women in Afghanistan was just 44 years of age. Now it is 62 years. Back then, almost no girls went to school. Today, 3 million do. They comprise nearly 40 percent of all primary school enrollments. Nearly 120,000 Afghan girls have graduated from high school, 15,000 are enrolled in universities, and nearly 500 women are on university faculties. Maternal mortality, infant mortality, under-five mortality rates have all declined significantly. More Afghan children are living past their fifth birthday today than at any time in their recent past.

Now, these statistics represent hundreds of thousands of individual success stories and reflect the work of courageous and determined women across the country. Afghan women helped achieve a constitution that enshrines women’s rights. They hold office at the national, provincial, and local levels. They serve on the High Peace Council and in provincial peace councils. They are opening and running businesses of all kinds. They are helping to build an effective and vibrant civil society.

In ways that often go unnoticed and certainly uncelebrated, the women of Afghanistan are hard at work each and every day solving Afghanistan’s problems and serving her people. Now, for many Afghan women, the help they have received from this council has made all the difference. Literacy education, support for women entrepreneurs, basic health services, job training for women judges and diplomats – you could go on and on. This council and the projects it has given risen – it has given rise to have provided concrete and effective support. They’ve translated our feelings and our rhetoric into action.

So this progress is worth cheering, but it’s also worth protecting. Now that we have entered into this period of transition, it’s absolutely critical we protect these gains and expand on them. Not that is not my view or the view of Laura Bush or any of the Americans who are here; that is a view expressed loudly and clearly by Afghan citizens, men and women alike. It is also the view of Afghan leaders, and it is certainly the view of the international community. The women of Afghanistan are a valuable and irreplaceable resource, and their rights must be protected, and their opportunities for them to contribute must be preserved.

Now, of course, that is easy to say and it is much harder to do. I know that many women in Afghanistan and their supporters around the world are closely watching what we and the Afghan Government do to support a potential political reconciliation. Many are worried that in whatever future negotiations that might occur women, their rights, their roles, their concerns will be scarified, and the old days will return. Well, let me say again what I have said before in Kabul, in London, in Bonn, in Munich, in New York, and Washington: The United States cannot and will not let that happen.

Our goal is to get Afghans talking with other Afghans about the future. We’ve said from the start that a reconciliation dialogue must include women as well as ethnic minorities and civil society. One of our redlines is that insurgents who want to reconcile in the end must commit to abide by Afghanistan’s constitution and the rights enshrined in it, most particularly women’s rights.

There are always going to be those, not only in Afghanistan, who want to roll back progress for women and impose second-class citizenship on women, but the Afghan constitution is clear, and the Afghan Government has clearly affirmed it as the law of the land. So we will not waver on this point. Any peace that is attempted to be made by excluding more than half the population is no peace at all. It is a figment that will not last. (Applause.)

So 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. And we will be working closely with the international community as well, because we all need to be vigilant and disciplined in our support and in our refusal to accept the erosion of women’s rights and freedoms.

As Mrs. Bush said in her historic radio address in 2001, the fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women. So we must use every available tool to support that commitment. And to that end, I am pleased to announce that the United States will be sponsoring the creation of an International Center for Afghan Women’s Economic Development to be located at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul. (Applause.) And after lunch, you can see the blueprints of the center on display in the Thomas Jefferson Room next door.

Now, let me hasten to add that I am aware change of the kind that we are seeking does not come quickly or easily. In fact, it is the work of a generation or more. Yet even within a smaller time horizon, so much is possible. Just think, if you get discouraged by the headlines, of what this council has done in the past 10 years. Just think of all the women for whom your programs made the critical difference. Just think of all the families that are healthier, more prosperous, and secure because of you.

So for the Afghan people, it is the start of a new year and a new season for many, a time of renewal and recommitment. And I think this lunch, in our spring, represents our pledge to continue our work together for the next 10 years and beyond to support the women of Afghanistan as they do build those better futures for themselves and their families and for their nation.

I am so pleased to be able to introduce someone who is part of very small group. (Laughter.) And it’s a group that has made a great contribution in so many ways during the course of our country’s history. When we were entertaining at the White House this past week Prime Minister Cameron, President Obama jokingly referred to the War of 1812 being recognized for the 200th anniversary. And I reminded my British colleagues that it was Dolly Madison who saved the treasures of the White House on the way out the door. (Laughter.) Well, there are some stories which are well known and other stories which have yet to be told, and I hope some stories that never see the light of day. (Laughter.)

But one thing I know for sure, and that is that during a very difficult time in our nation’s history Laura Bush served with great distinction and honor, and it wasn’t only about what she did here at home. It was also about her recognition of the importance of reaching out beyond our borders, a lesson that is still as relevant today as ever. And thank you so much, Laura, for everything you did to make this council a reality. Please join me in welcoming Laura Bush. (Applause.)

MRS. BUSH: Thank you so much. Thank you, all. Thanks, everybody. Thank you, all. Thank you and thank you very much, Secretary Clinton. Thank you for your support for the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council. If we hadn’t – if we didn’t have you right at the very top supporting it, we wouldn’t be celebrating this 10th anniversary, so thank you very, very much. I really appreciate it. (Applause.)

I want to also thank Ambassador Verveer. Thank you for everything you’ve done for this council and for so many other women around the world. And thank you for representing our country so well. I appreciate it a lot. Foreign Minister Rassoul, thank you for joining us today. We’re very happy to see you. And Ambassador and Mrs. Hakimi, thanks so much. It’s great to see you again. And former Ambassador Jawad and Shamim, who were also founding members of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, thank you for joining us. And the members of the United States Congress who have come today as well, thank you for continuing to work in your offices for our relationship with Afghanistan and with the women of Afghanistan. Thank you for all of that.

And then of course to all the members of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council who have joined us today. To Phyllis Magrab and Dr. DeGioia, who have given the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council a home, thank you all for that.

I’m very happy to be here at the State Department for the 10th anniversary of the U.S.–Afghan Women’s Council. After the attacks of September 11th, the spotlight of the world turned on Afghanistan. And I had a really close friend, one of my college friends from Texas, who gave me a phone call and she said that the whole time we’ve been in Washington, she was just thinking thank heaven she wasn’t in my shoes.

But then after that, she was jealous. (Laughter.) She said she was jealous for the first time because I could actually do something. And she wanted so badly to be able to help the people of Afghanistan and especially the women of Afghanistan. What she said was true, and as I learned more about what women in Afghanistan faced, I knew that those of us in the United States needed to reach out to them and to help.

In November 2001, George asked me to give the weekly presidential radio address – I think, actually, a woman advisor of his who’s here suggested it, Karen Hughes – (laughter) – to describe the plight of Afghan women. Many Americans were learning for the very first time about the severe repression and brutality against women that was common in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Girls were forbidden from attending school, women couldn’t leave their homes alone without a male escort, and so they were denied access to doctors when they were sick or the chance to work if they were widows and support their children. And Afghanistan had the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world.

The stark contrast between our lives and the lives of women in Afghanistan horrified many American women, and gave birth to strong friendships between American women and our Afghan sisters. Everywhere I went, women stopped me and said, “What can I do? Is there anything I can do?” One woman told me that she would lie in bed at night and try to figure out ways she could help the women of Afghanistan. American women wanted to help, and their response demonstrates the deep compassion of the American people and the desire to support Afghan women help establish – that helped all of us establish one of the most successful public-private partnerships in our country: the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council.

Since its founding in 2002 by Presidents Bush and Karzai, the Council has given Americans, American individual citizens and corporations, a way to partner with Afghan women to help them recover from decades of oppression. Council initiatives have touched nearly every part of Afghan civil society, from education and healthcare to business and government to agriculture.

I joined the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council for my first trip to Afghanistan in 2005, and several of the people who are in the room today were with me on that trip. In Kabul, I met with Afghan women who were just beginning to experience their newfound rights. Their stories encouraged all of us and gave us hope. I returned to Afghanistan two more times, and on each visit I saw progress. On my last trip in 2008, I visited Bamyan Province, the same province where the Taliban had shocked the world by destroying those two towering sixth century Buddhas. And I met with their governor, a woman, Dr. Habiba Sarabi. I visited with a class of women police officers in Bamyan Province, courageous women who were taking the profession that women – of course, they would have never guessed they would have been able to have.

Since then, since returning to Dallas, George and I have hosted Afghan educators and entrepreneurs at the Bush Institute for two conferences on empowering the women and girls of Afghanistan. These women’s – now, Afghanistan is home to more than 200 women-owned businesses, and women constitute 35 percent of the work force. These women’s enterprises range from traditional handicraft and artisan production, to engineering and construction, to financial services and consulting. While the challenges to their success are considerable, a growing number of women are starting their own businesses, supporting their families, and creating jobs for their neighbors. Studies indicate that women reinvest their earnings in their children’s education, in healthcare for their families, and in necessities like food and clothing.

While these signs of progress are encouraging, serious challenges remain. Women’s involvement in Afghanistan’s peace process has been limited. Recent statements made by the Mullahs would severely limit women’s ability to work outside the home. And there are some who still seek to silence women through intimidation and violence. The failure to protect women’s rights and to ensure their security could undermine the significant gains Afghan women have achieved. No one wants to see Afghanistan’s progress reversed or its people returned to the perilous circumstances that marked the Taliban’s rule.

Promoting women’s freedoms is crucial to Afghanistan’s future. To the extent that women are empowered to fully participate in their country, they’ll contribute to the stability and the prosperity of their nation. And that’s why the work of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council is so important today and in the years ahead.

I want to thank all of the council members and all of our partners for all you’ve done over the last 10 years to empower Afghan women and to help them build better lives for themselves and their families, and thereby build a better and prosperous and stable Afghanistan. We want to see that country’s hard work and their progress sustained. And we want to ensure that women are empowered so Afghanistan can succeed.

So thanks to each and every one of you here today as we mark 10 years of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council. Congratulations and thanks to everybody who’s done so much over the last 10 years, and best wishes for the next 10. I’ll be right there with you. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so very much. Now it is my pleasure to introduce my colleague, Afghan Foreign Minister Rassoul, who has been a very strong voice and supporter of the rights of women and the roles that they can and should play in the future of Afghanistan. He traveled here from Kabul to represent the Afghan Government at this celebration.

Foreign Minister. (Applause.)

FOREIGN MINISTER RASSOUL: Honorable Madam Secretary Clinton, Honorable Mrs. Laura Bush, Ambassador Verveer, distinguished member of the U.S.-Afghan Women Council, ladies and gentlemen: Madam Secretary, thank you so much for those gracious words. I am truly delighted to be here once again among good friends, especially from the U.S.-Afghan Women Council. Please allow me to express my gratitude to you, Honorable Madam Secretary and the council, for inviting me to be part of today’s event. I would like also to especially acknowledge you, Honorable Mrs. Bush, for your commitment to the cause of Afghan women and their rights. I am honored to be with all of you as we celebrate the council 10th anniversary.

As always, I am grateful for the continued effort made by U.S.-Afghan Women Council in developing and implementing projects in the field of health, education, illiteracy, entrepreneurship, and political leadership with the aim of improving the lives of Afghan women and children. What you do makes a real difference, and I want to convey the heartfelt appreciation and gratitude of the Afghan people and government who have directly benefited from your assistance and support.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to make three quick points in my brief remarks today. First, I want to touch upon some example of the historic – I repeat historic – achievement you have made in Afghanistan in helping Afghan women realize their God-given rights and access opportunities in all walk of lives. As, Madam Secretary, you mentioned, Afghan women make up 28 percent of legislator in Afghan parliament. They occupy one-fourth of the government jobs, including 9 percent of decision-making level ministers, deputy ministers, directors, one governor, a mayor, an ambassador, and other senior diplomats.

Girls make about 40 percent of the nearly 8 million children going to school in Afghanistan today – a figure that was fewer – that was 10 fewer than 1 million in 2,000 girl, no girls at that time. Thirty percent of schoolteachers and 15 percent of university teachers are women.

Afghan women and girls today make 24 percent of doctors and medical workers across the country. Women made up 40 percent of voters in our last presidential elections. We have female pilots, army and police officers, and professional martial artists. Afghan women are at the least 50 percent force behind Afghanistan’s vibrant independent media and active civil society groups, both of which are among the most visible and concrete achievements of the past decade. In fact, there are millions of other Afghan girls and women throughout Afghanistan today who are no longer the oppressed, isolated, hopeless existence they were subjected to during the war and even more brutally under the Taliban regime throughout the 1990s.

Women’s right today are enriched in to democratically adopted constitution of the country and codified into various laws enacted by the Afghan Government in accordance with our constitution and our international obligations.

I am making this last point to underline President Karzai and the Afghanistan commitment, government commitment to the rights of Afghan women under the Afghan Constitutions and Afghanistan’s relevant international obligations.

Where not specified, these numbers and percent that I just referenced by the example were all a big zero in 2001 and there were no legal guarantees for women rights in Afghanistan. So ladies and gentlemen, these gains and the collective change they represent are historic and source of real and genuine pride for all Afghans.

A key question here is what – and more importantly who – made this possible. That’s my second brief point. There is no doubt that we have had these achievement chiefly because the Afghan people want it, support them, and because courageous Afghan women have fought for them.

Honorable Madam Secretary, I want to thank you for most recently acknowledging one of the model of exemplary character and steely courage in the person of Maryam Durani, an elected member of the Kandahar Provincial Council.

But these achievement were also made possible – were also made possible – they were helped and facilitated by the principled and generous support of the international community, people such as you. The leaders in this panel, the countless activists working on the ground in Afghanistan, in your governments of the cause of human rights in Afghanistan. So I want to take this opportunity once again as there are Afghan committed to the rights of Afghan women and their full participation in the social, political, and economic life of my country to say to you, thank you very much for standing with Afghanistan and for standing with the women of Afghanistan.

Ladies and gentlemen, the support and commitment from the world community, especially emanating from the Long-Term Strategic Partnership Dialogue between Afghanistan and the United States, has given new hope to the Afghan women. Our country has made significant progress, and Afghan women now realize that they are achieving a deserving place in society – in society, but our shared job in helping the women of Afghanistan realize their rights is not yet done.

This is my third brief point. Afghan women continue to suffer terrible violence, something our First Lady has forcefully spoken against. There are still far too many Afghan girls who never got the chance to go to school. Maternity mortality is still unacceptable – unacceptably high. Afghan women and Afghan children continue to be among the innocent victim on the ongoing war, something we all need to put an end to.

And of course, there are other challenges that both men and women face in today’s Afghanistan, chief among them the lack of confidence inspiring security. So our gains are fragile and depend upon a smooth and successful transition up to and well beyond 2014. Let me assure you that we will forge ahead with our struggle for peace, security, development, and justice for our citizen, especially our mother and sisters. So as we move forward in our remarkable commitment to protect and further promote the right of Afghan women now and beyond 2014, we will continue to require and count on your tangible, long-term moral and practical support and assistance. Thank you very much for the kind attention. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Thank you very much, Foreign Minister Rassoul. And now we come to a part of the program that we’ve tried to keep a secret from Mrs. Bush and Secretary Clinton. And that is not easy. (Laughter.) But hopefully they don’t know about this. So Mrs. Bush, if I could ask you to join us up here in the middle.

Many of us can still recall your historic radio address in 2001 in which you called on all Americans to ensure that dignity and opportunity will be secured for all the women and children of Afghanistan. And you have led by example. You helped inspire the formation of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, you’ve worked to mobilize 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.

I know a little bit about this firsthand, because back in early 2002 when I was involved with Vital Voices, it was Mrs. Bush who helped support a program that involved providing jobs to Afghan widows to make uniforms for the girls to go back to school. Your commitment took you to Afghanistan several times, occasions in which you launched were the programs and supported America’s continuing engagement. And now, as former First Lady, you continue to write op-eds, sponsor programs through the Bush Institute, and support the initiatives of this council. Your commitment has not waned.

And so for your leadership, dedication, and generosity on behalf of the women and girls of Afghanistan, for continuing to be a driving force for the work of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, and for showing us the value of collaboration, the council presents you with this award of appreciation. (Applause.)

MR. DEGIOIA: Well, it’s been an honor to be here today as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council and the enduring contribution of two extraordinary leaders, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and honorary advisor of the council Mrs. Laura Bush. We are inspired by the depth of your commitment to the empowerment and success of women and children in Afghanistan and around the world. We’re grateful for the actions you have taken, both during your time in the White House as our First Ladies and in your current work to ensure significant progress and ever-expanding impact.

And I also wish to thank our partners at the United States State Department for their continued commitment and collaboration, as well as Abbott Laboratories and Goldman Sachs for their dedicated efforts to enable our work. Georgetown University has been deeply engaged in the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council from the time of its founding, participating in the critical work of partnering with the U.S. and Afghan Governments, the private sector, and NGOs to develop and implement initiatives in support of Afghan women and children.

Since 2008, we’ve had the privilege of giving the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council a home at Georgetown University’s Center for Child and Human Development under the leadership of Dr. Phyllis Magrab. As we mark the 10th year anniversary of the council, we will continue to expand on this decade of dedicated work, deepening our commitment to creating broader opportunities for Afghan women and children. And the council will have a special role to play in the areas of humanitarian support and local capacity building, especially during this period of transition.

At Georgetown, we look forward to drawing on the diverse resources of our community to ensure the continued growth and success of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, especially in these critical areas.

We also had the opportunity in December to host Secretary Clinton as she announced the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security at Georgetown and to discuss our efforts to establish an initiative for Women, Peace, Security, and Development within our School of Foreign Service under the direction of our dean, Carol Lancaster. Now it’s a pleasure for me at this moment to now be a part of presenting another award, and that is to invite Phyllis Magrab, our vice chair of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council and director of the Center for Child and Human Development to join me in presenting the Caring for Children Lifetime Achievement Award.

Now, the Caring for Children Award is given by Georgetown University through its Center for Child and Human Development to honor an individual who’s made a distinguished contribution to improving the quality of life for vulnerable children and their families. And today it is our pleasure to honor Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton for her deep and enduring commitment to this end.

Secretary Clinton has been making significant contributions through her work for decades, beginning with her important scholarly article in the 1973 edition of the Harvard Education Review on Children and the Law. Since that time, she has been dedicated to creating policies and programs to benefit the most vulnerable children and their families. Her accomplishments have been wide-ranging, but for a special reason I wish to highlight the Arkansas home instruction program for preschool youth that she championed when she was First Lady of Arkansas.

This program sent teachers into the homes of underserved families to train parents in school-preparedness and literacy. And through the program, parents learned the importance of talking to and reading to their children. In highlighting this work and recognizing Secretary Clinton’s commitment to the mothers and children of Afghanistan, the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council has just launched the Mothers As First Teachers initiative, originated and led by council member Jill Iscol and supported by a group of generous donors and implemented by the early learning team at Georgetown’s Center for Child and Human Development. The initiative will develop materials to support mothers as the first teachers of their children, which will be used in the women’s resource centers and the women’s gardens of Afghanistan. It’s in this context, that with great pleasure, we offer this award to an ever more dedicated friend of women and children across the globe, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it is so wonderful and surprising – (laughter) – to thank you all for that very meaningful award, but more than that, for launching this program, Mothers As First Teachers, in Afghanistan. And I thank Jill Iscol and all who have made this possible. It’s an absolutely fabulous initiative, and I’ll look forward to hearing how the implementation goes.

Let me now introduce someone who’s been a great leader for so many years in the world of academia and philanthropy, someone who has really seen over the horizon and understands the long-term challenges that we all face in trying to make change in the world that is sustainable. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Vartan Gregorian. (Applause.)

DR. GREGORIAN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mrs. Laura Bush, your Excellency Zalmai Rassoul – foreign minister of Afghanistan, distinguished diplomats, Ambassador Melanne Verveer, members of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, esteemed guests, ladies and gentlemen, today is first day of spring, hence first day of new year, Nowruz, New Year’s Day in Afghanistan, Iran, and Tajikistan. I wish all of you happy new year. (In Farsi.)

From my childhood days in Iran, I still remember the poetic expression, (in Farsi). May every day of yours be a nowruz, and your nowruz be a glorious one. I am always honored to be in the presence of two great friends, former First Ladies, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, a fellow librarian and educator. (Laughter.)

I am great admirer of theirs. With vigor and passion, tenacity and conviction, they have done so much for so long to advance the cause of education, of women’s rights and opportunities. They are invested in hope. They have invested in human potential to expand human opportunities without racial, ethnic, and political borders, boundaries.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to work tirelessly to advance peace and human rights in general, and women rights in particular, not only here but throughout the world. In their fight on behalf of women, Hillary Clinton has a formidable secret weapon: Ambassador Melanne Verveer. (Laughter.) She is an amazing force, free spirit, free nature, master tactician, manager, and naturally tireless on behalf of women. I’m delighted to be here. (Applause.)

As an historian who is very familiar with Afghanistan, I’m well acquainted with the efforts of the Afghans to modernize their country while maintaining its independence and sovereignty. I’m also aware of the quest of Afghan women to receive education, secure opportunities, become equal citizens, and thus contribute to their country’s advancement. Mr. Towdy, a noted expert on Islam, in his comments here on the Qu’ran, has reminded us – he is Tunisian great scholar – that God created a couple, did not create men first, women second. He created a couple at the same time. So there’s no way half of the couple can be inferior to the other entire couple. (Laughter.) (Applause.)

I’m also here in my capacity as president of Carnegie Corporation to tell you that we have supported the cause of secure, peaceful, and economically vibrant Afghanistan where the talent of its people and its rich multiethnic society can prosper. Beginning with a grant in 2003 to the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan for support for the Kabul Public Library and the repatriation of Afghan memory in the form of books and archival materials from libraries and universities abroad, we have invested in a wide range of projects in Afghanistan.

From the work of organizations such as the Center for International Cooperation at New York University to help the UN build sustainable peace, to the Institute of State Effectiveness on the ground effort to complement the achievements of National Solidarity Program, to Lichtenstein Institute for Self Determination at Princeton University track two dialogue that have engaged the leaders of experts to Afghanistan and the region, to the work of West Virginia-based Future Generations to link grassroots development with national and international assistance efforts, our grantees have been committed to advancing solutions by, for, and with Afghans and for Afghanistan.

Most recently, we support the International Task Force of Afghanistan organized by Century Foundation and chaired by former Under Secretary of State of Political Affairs, a Carnegie Corporation trustee, Tom Pickering, and former UN Special Representative for Afghanistan and Foreign Minister of Algeria Lakhdar Brahimi to map out with Afghan leaders and others the requirements for a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan that also engages its neighbors.

Building of this legacy, and not to belabor more – Kumalaya, remind me, that time is now of the essence – (laughter) – I’d like to announce today the Carnegie Corporation has decided in honor of our first two ladies but also especially in honor of work that council is doing, to grant $1 million scholarship for Afghan women who study in Afghan universities. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Furthermore, I am delighted to tell you that my colleague and friend, Allan Goodman, head of Institute of International Education – again, founded by Carnegie Corporation 1919 – has decided that they will administer the grant in order not to impose any difficulties in expediting this matter.

So thank you very much for having me here. Delighted. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, Micah, that’s great. That is so great.

And finally, it is such a great pleasure to introduce you to a special guest. Zala Ahmad has joined us today from Afghanistan by way of Boston, Massachusetts. She has firsthand experience in many of the issues we’ve discussed. She is the founder of the Humanitarian Organization for Local Development, a training and resource center that emphasizes education and empowerment for women and girls, located in the Farah Province in Afghanistan. She has worked with UNESCO, the Afghan Ministry of Education, to improve primary and secondary education; for USAID, to improve training for women farmers. Now she is here in the United States on a Fulbright scholarship, studying international economics at Brandeis University.

We are delighted to welcome her here to the State Department. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

MS. AHMAD: Nowruz Mobarak. And as Madam Secretary said, today is the second day of our new year. And I want to begin with wishing you a happy new year and hoping that this year and years to come will bring peace and stability to my country, where all women and men work together to lead our nation towards a bright future. As an Afghan woman who is pursuing high education through a program that’s a hallmark of America generosity and diplomacy, the Fulbright Program, I am very honored to speak with you today.

Some may wonder if these efforts and partnership truly make a difference. And I can tell you firsthand, yes, they do. A decade ago, women in my country were deprived of even their basic rights, such as access to education, employment, healthcare. But today, we are active in all spheres of life. Women are in business and politics. Millions of girls are going to school. And some even work in media, such as my fellow Fulbrighter, Shugofa, sitting here, and many others.

As you may think that the impact of Fulbright Program is only limited to rural areas – urban areas, but that’s not true. I come from Farah Province, which is a very remote and rural area in the west of Afghanistan. And women and girls in Farah Province four years ago did not have access to English and computer programs, business management, civic education, and social and political advocacy skills. In 2008, with other friends, I founded an NGO called HOLD, Humanitarian Organization for Local Development, which provides these opportunities and resources to more than 400 Afghan women, with the support of State Department.

Let me share one of their many stories with you. A 16-years-old girl from Rigi village named Lena faced family restrictions in receiving education. To help her, we invited her grandfather to our center. He came all the way from the village and saw the women’s education classes. He talked with our teachers. And this trip changed his outlook, and he agreed to send his granddaughter to the center. Today, Lena is our most talented and active student in the center. And her family not only supports Lena, but also encourages other girls in the village to learn in the center.

That’s why I am pleased to stand here on behalf of the Afghan – young Afghan women and my fellow Fulbrighters to say thank you to Secretary Clinton, Mrs. Laura Bush, Foreign Minister Rassoul, Ambassador Hakimi, Ambassador Verveer, and the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, and everyone in this room for what you all have done and will do to make a difference for the lives of Afghan women in Afghanistan, because we still have a long way to go. I would also like to thank the Carnegie Foundation for their generous gift of scholarships to Afghan women because this gift will help us get there. Thank you. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Zala, thank you so much for your words of inspiration. We look forward to watching what you will do when you get back home, a leader I’m sure.

Our program is now concluded. Our journey is not. We hope that we will all continue to work together and know that the council invites your continuing participation. As you leave, you will receive a copy of council member Caroline Firestone’s latest book on Afghanistan, Afghans and Americans United. So thank you all very much. (Applause.)

PRN: 2012/430