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

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
December 18, 2008

Press Availability by Mrs. Bush After Video Teleconference with Afghan Women Entrepreneurs
Roosevelt Room

9:59 A.M. EST

MRS. BUSH: Let me just say -- make a few remarks, and then we'll take questions. I want to thank you all for coming. This, as I said at the start, is the last U.S.-Afghan Women's Council meeting that I'll be in as First Lady. I will continue my work with the council for many years to come, I hope, and have many more opportunities to visit Afghanistan, to see these women -- some of these women who we've seen on the video conference, as well as many others.

I want to thank the Ambassador -- or Dr. DeGioia, who's here with me, for Georgetown University's involvement now in the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, their support of it, which will allow the council to continue out of government, but still -- and we hope that we'll have members who are in government on the council and continue the -- obviously working both the public/private side of the support and the benefit of women in Afghanistan.

So thank you all for coming. I think Dr. DeGioia wants to say something.

DR. DeGIOIA: I do. I just want to, again, express my appreciation to you both for your ongoing and deep commitment to the people of Afghanistan, but also for the trust and confidence that you have in Georgetown University to take on this role and responsibility, and also to Ambassador Jawad, for his ongoing friendship and partnership over these years. It's been a privilege for Georgetown to work with you and with people of your country.

We're proud today to transition the leadership of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council to the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development. This ushers in an exciting new phase for the council, and under the leadership of Dr. Phyllis Magrab, we look forward to advancing scholarship and fostering multi-disciplinary collaboration to further empower Afghan women. And we believe that this is an essential component of the post-conflict reconstruction of Afghanistan. We've had the privilege now for working over many years with our colleagues there, and we're looking forward to this new role that we'll be playing as we move forward. Thank you.

MRS. BUSH: Thanks, Dr. DeGioia.

AMBASSADOR JAWAD: Thank you very much. I really would like to convey the gratitude of the Afghan people and the Afghan women for what Mrs. Bush has done for us. We are trained for the fact that Mrs. Bush will stay with us. We will continue to hold the fragile hands of Afghan women, to help them lead into a civil, prosperous society in Afghanistan. We are looking very much forward to continual partnership with the Georgetown University and to enhance what's been accomplished in Afghanistan through the excellent work of the U.S.-Afghan Women Council. And particularly in the area of education, we are seeking your support for the American University of Afghanistan.

MRS. BUSH: Thank you, Ambassador. Did you all want to say anything before we start with questions?

MS. DOBRIANSKY: Mrs. Bush, I just wanted to say thank you for your leadership. We're excited for your continued involvement in the council. We're very pleased Georgetown is stepping up here. Ambassador Jawad, thank you. And if I may just briefly read you -- I have a letter from Senator Clinton: "As the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council comes together at the White House, please convey my appreciation and congratulations on the important work they have done on behalf of Afghan women and their valiant efforts to rebuild their country. Please convey my appreciation also to First Lady Laura Bush for her leadership and to Georgetown University for assuming its new leadership role on behalf of the council. Since its inception in January of 2002, the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council has had an impressive record of achievement through its education, health, and private sector initiatives. As First Lady, and as United States Senator, working with these courageous, dedicated, and indefatigable women has been a great source of personal satisfaction and pride. Their efforts are more important than ever before, and worthy of our support. With best wishes, I am sincerely yours, Hillary Rodham Clinton."

MR. KUNDER: During the Bush administration, the U.S. government alone, not counting the private sector, has invested nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in programs affecting Afghan women. And you've seen some of the results here today with these wonderful testimonials by Afghan entrepreneurs. So I would just say, Mrs. Bush, that one of the things we have to recommit ourselves to is sustaining that kind of effort going forward in the future to address the challenges you've outlined today.

MRS. BUSH: Thank you for what you do. Well, I think the letter from the Secretary of State-designate -- the future Secretary of State -- shows that this is not a partisan issue, that the support for the people of Afghanistan, the women of Afghanistan, will continue. And I'm very reassured that it will, and I know that you are too, and I want to continue to reassure the people of Afghanistan. It's very important for women to be successful there. We know, as we look around the world, that the countries that are successful are the countries where everyone, men and women, can contribute both to the economy and to every other part of life -- to the civil society and obviously the -- every part. So I think that -- I think it's really important to know that our support for Afghanistan, the United States' support for Afghanistan will continue.

Q Yes, I'd like to ask, how has the rising incidence of violence hampered the council's efforts, and what kind of challenges does that pose to these women who are trying to start up businesses?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I wouldn't say it's hampered our efforts on the council, because we have continued to work -- doubled -- redoubled our efforts. Women in Afghanistan -- and I know this from women that I've met -- are afraid. I mean, not all of them are, of course, but some are. And the women who are around this table, that we just watched, are very, very courageous to do things that, in many parts of Afghan society, are still not considered things that women should do, although they have made very smart efforts to do it in the context that fits in the Afghan society. For instance, the women's business mall, where women feel safe shopping, where women business owners feel safe running their businesses, where you could have a store like a lingerie store that would fit in society because it would be for women.

So I think we -- what we hope to see, as we continue to work, are ways women in Afghanistan can do what is work, but in a way that is appropriate for their culture and their society -- and obviously safe for themselves. And I think that's what we're seeing. We're seeing very smart women who are figuring out ways to answer business needs that haven't been met, when it's only businessmen in the business community.

AMBASSADOR JAWAD: We have heard from women who have established businesses in countless provinces in Afghanistan, such as Helmand, in the south, or Nangarhar in the east. So, yes, there are security challenges, but the Afghan women are extremely determined to improve their life, and grateful for the opportunities being presented to them.

Q I am from Afghanistan, too. Of course, you have a lot of memories in Afghanistan, especially from Afghan women. Could you please share one of them?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I loved it when I visited the province of Bamiyan, where the governor is a woman, where I had the chance to meet women police officers. And these are dreams that these women might have had that no one would have ever expected to come true. One of the women that I met, who is a police officer, studied to be a police officer, said that she'd always wanted to be a policewoman, but never expected to have the chance to be one.

So these are real success stories. But these are also stories of people who need the help, both of the civil society in Afghanistan and the government of Afghanistan, and from international support from every part of the world.

Q Thank you.

MRS. BUSH: Thank you.

Q How is the global financial crisis going to affect efforts to develop businesses in Afghanistan, particularly when it comes to the tightening of credit worldwide?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think that's something we all need to look at, I mean, everyone needs to look at, both government side and public/private side -- private side, rather, as you saw from Goldman Sachs, John Rogers being here from Goldman Sachs.

It's important for everyone, both governments and private philanthropy, charities, NGOs that are working in the field, to really look at their priorities and make sure that they're acting in the most efficient way possible to use the resources that they have, that might be less than they were a couple of years ago, but to make sure we don't neglect to support people who are very dependent upon support.

And one of the great things about women -- helping women entrepreneurs is that they can continue their work. In many cases, this is microfinance, it's very small amounts of credit that women start with to run these small businesses, and so I hope that that sort of credit will not be affected, that affected, because it is small.

Q I wanted to know, what is the education and background of most of the women who are brought into the program and who do well in it? What's their history?

MRS. BUSH: Well, as you can tell from this roundtable, these women obviously are educated. Many of them speak English. And some from this table, you saw, were educated in the United States; they're Afghan American women who have gone back to work there. And that is certainly one of the -- really one of the largest challenges facing Afghanistan, is that there's not a lot of human capacity. There have been 30 years of war. Most of the people who live in Afghanistan are younger than 30. Their entire lives they've lived in a country of conflict. All of these women who are under 30 were not allowed to be educated, if they grew up in Afghanistan. Many left and went to Pakistan or to United States, to other countries, and were educated.

But that is the real basis of what we need to do and what the Afghan government is trying to do, and that is build capacity, educate people as quickly as they can be educated -- educate teachers so teachers can go back to the provinces and, in a cascading effect, educate more teachers. And that's the real challenge, that -- to be able to have the human capacity to build the kind of law that Afghanistan wants, build the kind of government it wants, build the civil society that it needs to be able to support a vibrant economy and democracy.

So that's what we're seeing. And we're seeing this with the women who are going back and encouraging other women to study to be entrepreneurs, to make their own business plans, to do all the things that are the very basic things that are necessary for building an economy.

Q Thank you, Mrs. Bush.

MRS. BUSH: Thank you all so much. I really appreciate it. Thank you very much. And thank you, Secretary Dobriansky, for all you've done. It's been terrific.

Thank you, John. I'm looking forward to working with you, continuing to work with you. Ambassador, thank you.

END 10:12 A.M. EST

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