The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
October 10, 2003

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at Conference of the National Association of Women Judges

Thank you, Bea Ann, for your invitation today. And a special thanks to Judge Kramer and to each of you for welcoming me to the conference of the National Association of Women Judges. For a quarter of a century, you've worked to advance equal justice and equal representation in the courtroom. You help to educate the judiciary about issues that affect women and children, including domestic violence and immigration. You inspire more women to consider careers in law and to bring their compassion to the courtroom.

Thank you for advancing the participation of women in society and for strengthening our democracy. I'm especially pleased to hear today that Shirin Ebadi, the first woman judge of Iran, won the Nobel Peace Prize for promoting democracy and defending human rights - especially those of women and children. And I hope that this global acknowledgement of her work will inspire her country to recognize the absolute necessity of equal rights for every man, woman, and child.

All nations face the challenge to make sure every person can realize their full potential. No society can prosper when half of its population is not allowed to contribute to its progress. Educated and empowered women are vital to democracy - and important for the development of all countries. As President Bush said in his first State of the Union Address, "America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity, the rule of law, limits on the power of state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance." These values are a vital part of our humanity, and their scope includes all women and men.

The theme for your conference, Justice in America: Justice in the World, is appropriate for a discussion not only of the law, but also of women's rights. There can be no justice in the world unless every woman has equal rights. The terrorist attacks of September 11th galvanized the international community. Many of us have drawn valuable lessons from the tragedies. People around the world are looking closely at the roles women play in their societies. Afghanistan under the Taliban gave the world a sobering example of how women are denied their rights and their place in society.

Under the Taliban, women weren't allowed to go to school or to work - they couldn't even leave their homes by themselves. They couldn't go to the doctor if they were sick and faced having their fingernails pulled out if they wore nail polish. Even small displays of joy were outlawed - children weren't allowed to fly kites, and their mothers faced beatings for laughing out loud.

Today, the world is helping Afghan women return to the lives they once knew. Women were once important contributors to Afghan society, and they had the right to vote as early as the 1920s. Now, once again, women are participating in their country's civic and political life. More than two hundred women voted in the Loya Jirga that established Afghanistan's current government. And next year, all Afghan women will have the opportunity to vote in the presidential election.

As they've regained the right to vote, women are gaining the confidence to take charge of their own destinies. Before the Taliban, many women were professionals - they were teachers, doctors, and lawyers. Today women are working again - and for the first time, some are running their own businesses and becoming part of the global economy. At the Maimana's Women's Association in Faryab Province, women are sewing traditional embroidered cloth and carpets. At the Market Garden in Herat, they are growing almond trees and vegetables and selling their harvest. USAID has built Women's Resource Centers across Afghanistan where women are receiving vital job and literacy training. At the center in Logar Province, women are learning how to run a poultry business starting with their own flock of thirty chickens. In Gardez Province, sixty women are training to become tailors.

And women across Afghanistan are learning from and working with some of America's most talented women. Teachers in Nebraska are training Afghan teachers, who go home and train others. And you may not know that the University of Nebraska at Omaha helped to edit and print five million textbooks in the Afghan languages of Pashto and Dari. The curriculum for the new textbooks was developed by Afghans. And through video conferencing technology, women in Washington and New York are discussing business ideas with women in Kabul. Pat Mitchell, president of PBS, mentored two Afghan journalists this past summer at the Lehrer News Hour. These women contributed to "Afghanistan Unveiled," an oral history project - and they went home with new information and a renewed appreciation for the freedom of speech.

As a former teacher and librarian, I'm proud that today, nearly four million Afghan children are in school, many for the first time, including more than one million girls. At the newly opened Sultana Razia School, girls now talk about their future, about becoming doctors and teachers, and about rebuilding their country. One young girl said, "I want to become a lawyer, because I want to bring justice and freedom to Afghanistan, especially for women." At a girls' school in Northern Afghanistan, the principal, a man named Diwana Qol said, "These girls are part of our future...We will need all of our children, boys and girls, to be well educated if we are to rebuild our country from all this war."

Children in Afghanistan are eager to learn. And yet one-and-a-half million children cannot go to school because there are not enough buildings and teachers. The number of school-age children has outpaced the number of qualified teachers in many countries. And in Afghanistan, where many teachers themselves only have a primary education, additional training is critical to the success of the education system.

I'm pleased to announce that, beginning next fall, the United States will reestablish the American School in Kabul for Afghan children and for children of international families. Prior to the Taliban, the American School was an outstanding institute of culture and education. Our new ambassador designee to Afghanistan, Zal Khalizad, attended classes there as a young man. Because a large percentage of the student body will be Afghan, the school will help both international and Afghan children learn and work together in an environment of respect. The school is a symbol of America's ongoing commitment to Afghanistan and to the critical role of education in rebuilding a society.

In tandem with this project, I'm working with our government and the private sector to develop a teacher training institution that will help Afghanistan meet its educational needs by training Afghan teachers, especially women. Both of these projects - the American school and the teacher training institute - are being organized through the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, inaugurated by Presidents Bush and Karzai.

The people of Afghanistan are making great progress in rebuilding their country and in advancing women's rights. And the women of Afghanistan are inspiring the women of Iraq. They too lived under an oppressive tyrant. Under Saddam, women who came under political suspicion were tortured, or raped, or beheaded. Some of Saddam's militiamen carried ID cards listing their official assignment as "violation of women's honor." Iraqi men were allowed to kill female relatives for supposed slights to the family name. One tragic legacy of Saddam's rule is an overall adult illiteracy rate of 61 percent. And a staggering 77 percent of women - three out of four - cannot read.

Today, I'm proud that this oppression has ended. Of course it will take time for Iraq to recover from three decades of dictatorship, but new hope is emerging and freedom is taking root. Already, Iraqi women are participating in the political and economic reconstruction of their country. Three women were chosen to serve on the Governing Council - including a woman who is leading the Ministry of Public Works. A group of Iraqi women are working with the U.S. State Department to develop programs that empower women to help reconstruct Iraq. These women tell chilling stories of their experiences under Saddam. But despite the terrors they recount, they are determined to build a foundation for democracy and women's rights.

Clearly, the women of Iraq bring knowledge and skills that will be vital to restoring their country. Our substantial direct assistance to Iraq includes significant resources to enhance the health and education of Iraqi women and girls. USAID is rebuilding maternal clinics and women's dormitories at Babylon University. We support the development of women's self-help and vocational organizations throughout Iraq, from Karbala to Kirkuk.

The presence of a peaceful, stable Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a powerful beacon for freedom, an example of hope in that vital region. A recent Gallup survey found that nearly two-thirds of Iraqis say ousting Saddam Hussein was worth the hardship they've experienced; an overwhelming majority feels that Iraq will be better off in five years than it was before. Nowhere is this more obvious than in education. Just last week, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children went back to school. Our coalition forces are working with 36,000 local Iraqi workers to refurbish 1,600 schools across Iraq. To rebuild that many schools over a five month period is a great indication of our determination.

Today, Iraqis are experiencing the freedom that education brings. Students and teachers are free to discuss topics that were once forbidden. They no longer fear the secret police are sitting in their classrooms to monitor their studies. Next month, five million textbooks free of Baathist propaganda will be given to Iraqi students. Today, children and adults are discovering Iraq's best writers and poets in books once banned. Professors, chosen through open staff elections, are teaching lessons in freedom and human rights.

I'm encouraged that Iraqi women are organizing their own advocacy groups. Our commitment to the women of Iraq is part of a broader effort to support women across the Middle East - from girls' literacy programs in Yemen, to micro-credit initiatives for women entrepreneurs in Jordan, to legal workshops sponsored by your colleague Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in Bahrain.

These examples of progress and freedom inspire us. And so do compassionate Americans who are committed to helping their neighbor - even when they're a world away. Soldiers who are helping to rebuild schools in Iraq are calling in help from back home. Major Greg Softy of a Cavalry Regiment in the 1st Armored Division sent an e-mail to friends and family to request school supplies and other items for Iraqi children. And a group of citizens in St. Paul, Minnesota, has sent dozens of packages and set up a website to encourage others to contribute.

When President Bush asked American children to donate one dollar to a child in Afghanistan, they responded with an overwhelming eleven million dollars - some of which happened to be in pennies, hard-earned allowance and birthday money. This week, the Council of Women World Leaders met at Georgetown University to discuss the advancement of women's rights. And as we meet today, children here are communicating with Muslim children through an email pen pal program.

A U.S. initiative called Friendship Through Education links school in America with schools in countries in the Middle East. Students write essays about their lives, religion, and culture. And they build friendships and a dialogue on issues that face them as global citizens. Sara, an elementary student from North Carolina said, "It's exciting having a pen pal. He sent me a picture, and he looks different because of his skin, but I didn't care because we are really all the same. Maybe if we communicated with people from other countries they would like us more and maybe we would like them more."

Through communication and dialogue we can advance democracy. You're doing this today by inviting your fellow jurists from Afghanistan and Iraq to share in this important conference. All of us have an obligation to speak up and to speak out. We may come from different backgrounds and faiths; but advancing human rights is the responsibility of all humanity - a commitment shared by people of good will on every continent. As we work to meet the challenges that women face at home and abroad, our goal is simple: we seek women's full participation in every dimension of life.

I am inspired by the words of Farahnaz Nazir, founder of the Afghanistan Women's Association who said, "Society is like a bird. It has two wings. And a bird cannot fly if one wing is broken." Our dedication to advancing and protecting women's rights in all countries must continue for a prosperous and stable world. Without women, the goals of democracy and peace cannot be achieved. Thank you for your leadership and your continued work for women everywhere.


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