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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
October 6, 2004
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at the 2004 Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit
The St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort and Spa
Dana Point, California
9:36 A.M. PDT
MRS. BUSH: Thank you all very much, and thank you very much Ann. Thanks to you and to Pattie Sellers for your leadership of this very powerful group of women. I'm happy to be here to be part of this dialogue with so many smart and savvy women. In fact, I'm wondering how the guys are managing without us. (Laughter.)
As prominent women in business, law, the media, public life, I imagine that all of us have been subjected to a few stereotypes. I was reminded of that recently when I received some letters from a group of kindergarten students. Their teacher asked them to write what they thought my responsibilities were.
A little girl named Shelby wrote that I help the President with his paperwork and then I help him clean his office and I take care of him when he's sick and put cold cloths on his head. (Laughter.) I only do that after debates. (Laughter.)
Shelby wasn't the only child concerned about the President's health. Megan said that, as First Lady, I feed the dogs and I plant the daffodils and I do the President's speeches when he isn't feeling well. (Laughter.)
On the other hand, Todd thinks there's more manual labor involved in my job, but he actually might be headed for a career in fashion, because he wrote that I wear pretty suits and I shovel the snow and feed the birds. (Laughter.)
Of course, what I really get to do is take part in great events like this, and meet remarkable Americans who are shaping our world. President Bush and I appreciate all that each one of you do to make a difference in your community and in our country.
Our economy remains the strongest in the world, thanks to America's entrepreneurs and business leaders. We all know that empowered women are essential to a democracy. And this is even clearer to us today as we look around the world and see what happens in countries where half of the population is left out.
I'm proud that, in my husband's administration, there are more women in senior positions than in any presidential administration in history. Dr. Condoleezza Rice advises the President on foreign policy, Margaret Spellings is in charge of domestic policy. That means at the White House, women are in charge of everything abroad and everything at home. That sounds about right to me. Dr. Rice is also the first woman ever to serve as National Security Advisor.
Each one of you has achieved success in your respective fields, and you've done it through perseverance and hard work, sometimes while you're balancing a career and a carpool.
I'm glad to see that former Governor of Texas Ann Richards is here. She put it best when she said, "After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fed Astaire did, she just did it backwards and in high heels." (Laughter.)
We've all benefited from generations of strong women who have blazed trails before us. Women didn't get to sign the Declaration of Independence, but businesswoman Mary Goddard printed the first official copy. Verne Mitchell was the first woman to play in major league baseball, although she was still professionally called Miss Jack Mitchell. In her first game in 1931, the 17-year-old struck out Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Talk about a powerful woman.
That same year, Jane Addams won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to advance international peace. She was also a staunch advocate for women suffrage. She shocked her female audiences by pointing out that women were not better than men. In fact, she said, we haven't wrecked railroads, nor corrupted legislatures, nor done many of the unholy things that men have done. But then we haven't had the chance.
Women like Jane helped open the doors of opportunity to women to be leaders in business, government, the arts, education and every other field. And you in turn are inspiring millions of other women, especially young women like my daughters.
Today, women-owned businesses account for nearly half of all privately held firms. And women are opening businesses at twice the rate of men. We're making progress toward the day when we have a lot more of your colleagues who will be women and the First Lady of America will be a First Man.
The struggle for women's rights is a story of ordinary women doing extraordinary things. And today, the women of Afghanistan are writing an exciting new chapter in their long struggle. In just three days, they'll vote in the first free election in the history of their country. (Applause.)
Those who question whether people in the broader Middle East desire freedom need only ask the more than 10 million Afghans who have registered to vote. More than 4 million of those new voters are women. In a few short years, the people of Afghanistan have made great strides in transforming their country from a land of terror to one of opportunity and hope.
Just a little over two years ago in Afghanistan, women were not allowed to even walk outside of their house without a male escort, and they were beaten and executed in a sports stadium. They were not allowed to work outside their homes, little girls couldn't go to school or learn to read.
Today, women are going back to work and little girls are going to school. The people of Afghanistan have strong leaders and a constitution guaranteeing the rights of women. Several women helped draft this constitution, which is one of the most progressive documents on women's rights in the Muslim world.
Of course, Afghanistan still has much work ahead, but its new constitution declares that Afghan women have equal rights and responsibilities under the law. The constitution reserves 25 percent of the seats in the lower house of parliament for women. Women head two cabinet posts and many more serve throughout the government.
For the first time, a Ministry of Women's Affairs is focusing solely on issues for women, including health care and civic education. At provincial women's centers across Afghanistan, women are learning about their rights and their opportunities.
I thank Ann Moore and the women executives at Time Warner for collecting $60,000 for a women's resource center in Parwan outside Kabul. The center will provide classes in literacy and health care to women and girls.
At a similar center in Kabul, women ages 16 to 80 are learning to read and write, and they're learning about other inspiring role models in a course called "Women of the World." One teacher said, "Two months ago, the women in this class didn't even know how to hold a pencil in their hand. Now they're writing out their assignments in their notebooks."
Education for the women of Afghanistan is about more than learning to read and write. Women are also learning that they have value and worth. And as the women of Afghanistan gain confidence, they're becoming the greatest advocate for their daughters' education.
Today, nearly 5 million Afghan children, including more than 2 million girls, are in school. Girls now talk about their future and about rebuilding their country. One little girl said, "I want to become a lawyer because I want to bring justice and freedom to Afghanistan, especially for women."
The U.S. and friends of Afghanistan have built more than 200 schools, including many for girls. And together, we've published and distributed 25 million textbooks and trained thousands of teachers. And this year, 17 Afghan Fulbright scholars including five women are again studying in the United States after two decades of absence.
Summer before last, a group of Afghan women visited our friend and the President's advisor, Karen Hughes, in Texas as part of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council Meeting. When I talked to Karen the next day, she told me that the women had agreed that literacy was the key to improving every aspect of women's lives in Afghanistan, from health care to political participation.
More than 60 percent of Afghans are illiterate and the situation is especially dire in rural areas, where 92 percent of women cannot read or write.
I'm proud that just two weeks ago, thanks to the leadership of Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky and Secretary Ann Veneman, and with support from my office and the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, the women Teacher Training Institute in Kabul officially opened. (Applause.) Thank you, Paula.
The institute will use an innovative program to train and quickly deploy women teachers to teach basic literacy, numerancy, and life skills. These master teachers will travel to women's centers and train others to teach in rural and under-served communities.
Through this advanced program, most of the students they teach will try to learn the equivalent of two years' worth of work in just one year. Teachers like Storay, a mother of seven, who once held secret classes in an underground school for girls and risked her life by doing that, will now be able to freely and openly help many others. And women across Afghanistan are learning from and working with some of America's most talented women, including many women in this room.
Pat Mitchell mentored two Afghan journalists at the News Hour with Jim Lehrer. These women contributed to Afghanistan Unveiled, an oral history project, and they returned home to Afghanistan with a renewed appreciation for the vital importance of freedom of speech and the press.
Connie Duckworth established a micro-enterprise cooperative for Afghan women to make and export rugs. Her company, ARZU, which means "hope" in Dari, placed its first orders on International Women's Day.
In a few months, Barbara Barrett will host a dozen Afghan businesswomen at the Thunderbird Business School of International Management. These women will receive advanced training in entrepreneurship and will return home to teach more women how to run their own business.
The people of Afghanistan still face many challenges in strengthening their young democracy. But Afghan women are making great progress in exercising their freedoms. And the women of Afghanistan are an inspiration to their sisters in Iraq.
I know that Iraqi Minister of State for Women's Affairs Narmin Othman spoke here yesterday. Last week, she visited the White House to talk about the advances being made by and for women. After three decades of brutal dictatorship where women were punished by rape and torture, Iraqi women are participating in the reconstruction of their country.
Three women helped draft the Transitional Administrative Law that is a model for women's rights. During the signing of their interim law, Iraqi women marched together and many spoke publicly for the first time after years of oppression. In Baghdad, more than 200 women marched for greater rights, chanting "Yes for equality, yes for freedom." Perhaps most important, the march was applauded by a group of Iraqi men. One of them smiled and said, "This is the first time women have demonstrated freely in Iraq."
Six women ministers serve in the Cabinet and women hold a quarter of the seats on the Iraqi National Council. Nearly 100 women serve in Iraq's national police force, and for the first time women are serving beside men in the military. Thousands of Iraqi women are receiving training in political leadership for the coming elections. Some will soon learn how to produce their own call-in talk show on the radio to improve women's political participation.
Recently, hundreds of women formed a coalition called Mothers of Iraq. These women represent many different religions and regions, including Sunni and Shia from Basra to Baghdad. They're registering voters, they're teaching women how to vote. And such grassroots organizing is new to Iraq, but this coalition has quickly realized the influence that women can wield.
During the summer, Mothers of Iraq collected 16,000 signatures in support of a campaign to end violence. They rallied local communities and held their first press conference, which was widely covered by the Iraqi media.
As they are making their voices heard, the women of Iraq are also experiencing the freedom that education brings. Because of the United States and our allies, more than 2,400 schools have been renovated in Iraq. Master teachers have trained more than 30,000 teachers. Two million girls are back in school, and they no longer fear that secret police are monitoring their studies.
Six Iraqi women are also among the first Fulbright scholars to study in the United States in 14 years. In June, for the G8 Summit, I invited one of these students, Dalia, to join me, Cherie Blair, Bernadette Chirac, Afghan Minister of Women's Affairs Dr. Habiba Sarabi, and Iraqi Minister Pascale Isho Warda, for a discussion of women's rights.
Dalia told us about the great suffering her family endured under Saddam Hussein. She was temporarily blinded in the gassing of her village and she was the only one of her 28 classmates to survive the bombing of her school. Today, she is realizing a lifelong dream while pursuing a masters degree at Duke University. Next year, she'll return to her homeland to teach.
Dalia told me, "For the first time in my life, I'm optimistic about the future. I want America to know about the real Iraq, not the Iraqi the media portrays. Iraq is a country of 25 million human beings, each with their own hopes for a better future. We want to live in freedom."
Great progress is being made in Iraq, despite ongoing violence there. Terrorists continue to commit barbaric acts. They hope the Iraqi people will abandon their dream of freedom. But the determination of the Iraqi people is great.
We know that the building of a democracy is not always easy. We know this from our own history and from the history of other emerging democracies. I'm reminded of what Vaclav Havel, the former President of the Czech Republic once told me. He said, "Laura, you know, democracy is hard, because it requires the participation of everybody." The Czech Republic is just one example of a country that struggled against communism and achieved democracy. And the Czech people have made supporting freedom in other countries a major component of their foreign policy.
Not long ago in the march of history, our own mothers and grandmothers started out without the right to vote. But thanks to their efforts, and advances being made by women like you, this century promises to be one of even more milestones for women throughout the world. As our role models have shown, being first comes with more than rewards and recognition; it comes with responsibility.
Today, we are called to be more than women leaders -- but also leaders of women. We have an obligation to help our sisters who face prejudice and injustice. We know that no society can prosper when half of its population is not allowed to contribute to its progress.
All of us have an opportunity to speak out for women, for women who are denied the chance to learn, to vote, or to live in freedom. We may come from different backgrounds, but advancing human rights is the responsibility of all humanity -- a commitment shared by people of good will on every continent.
I'm proud to be part of the President's efforts to make women's rights a global policy imperative. Our work to help the women of Afghanistan and Iraq is part of a broader effort to support women across the Middle East, from girls' literacy programs in Yemen to legal workshops in Bahrain.
President Bush organized the Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative to help create a women's network in the region so that women can share and learn from each other, much as we're doing today. Many of you are actively involved in helping the women of Afghanistan, and I encourage you to extend your talent to helping the women of Iraq and the broader Middle East.
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'm 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 women's rights in all countries will lead to a better and safer world for our daughters and granddaughters. I hope you will get involved and support education and business development in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the broader Middle East. With our help, girls and women across the world can look forward to a future of hope.
Thank you for your leadership and your continued work for women everywhere. And thank you for being great role models for women and girls in our country and around the world.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)