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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Shirin Tahir-Kheli

March 11, 2004

Shirin Tahir-Kheli
Hello. I look forward to answering your questions today.

Charles, from Livingston, NJ writes:
Have you had an opportunity to visit Iraq? Do you the status of women changing in the country? What steps should be next?

Shirin Tahir-Kheli
Yes, I've been to Iraq on two separate occasions. During my first visit I traveled around Iraq focusing on women and children's health issues and saw the appalling state of Iraqi hospitals as a result of nearly 30 years of neglect by Saddam's regime.

I saw the dozens of palaces that were built in the same time that the regime spent a dollar per citizen on health.

I met with dozens of Iraqi women and each had a poignant story to tell about the human rights violations that they or members of their immediate families went through under Saddam.

Earlier this week, the Iraqi Governing Council signed the transitional administrative law which acts in sorts as an interim constitution and protects the rights of ALL of its citizens, men and women. We continue to work with the Iraqi people as we move toward June 30 which will be the date when Iraq becomes a sovereign nation.

Carol, from Michigan City writes:
Thank you for holding these forums for the citizens. What is the most important 3 things you do? and Do you do most of your work from the U.S. or do you travel abroad often? and Who do you report to directly?

The answers to these will help me understand your position better and put information with your face.

Shirin Tahir-Kheli
I am Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights and International Operations. I report directly to Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Advisor.

Amongst the things we do are to help promote and implement the President's policies on human rights and democracy. This includes promoting religious freedom, working on humanitarian assistance and refugees issues, and combating against trafficking in persons

We also work with international organizations like the UN, ILO, the Red Cross and others.

Amy, from Amherst, NY writes:
How is the issue of human trafficking of women being addressed by the administration? Many times women have no other choice but to enter this profession, how can it ever be stopped since it is such a lucrative business?

Shirin Tahir-Kheli
We have a comprehensive approach to trafficking in persons. At the UN General Assembly in September 2003, the President announced a landmark initiative that will contribute $50 million to provide women and children who have been trafficked with access to medical care, education, and other services in order to re-integrate them into society.

Each year, the State Department also publishes an annual report on trafficking in persons to raise awareness of the issue all over the world.

George, from Santa Barbara writes:
What are some of the actions that have been put in place for global women's rights since you have been part of the administration? What changes have you seen?

Shirin Tahir-Kheli
The President is committed to promoting women's rights around the globe. In the past 2 1/2 years 50 million men, women and children have been liberated from two of the most repressive regimes in the world. Women and girls are now free to go to school, vote and play an active role in their societies and in the future of their countries.

The US sponsored a resolution at this year's General Assembly on Women and Political Participation. 110 nations co-sponsored the resolution and it passed unanimously.

The President has committed $15 billion over 5 years to combating HIV AIDS which increasingly affects women. Part of that effort includes a mother and child HIV prevention initiative. The US is a leader in micro-credit financing for women around the world.

The President has committed over $150 million to combat trafficking in persons, something which affects predominantly women and children.

april, from arkansas writes:
when can you come see Drew Central School?

Bring your own lunch because our food is cold.

Shirin Tahir-Kheli
Unfortunately I cannot come to Arkansas today, as we have a lot to do here. But if you are in the neighborhood, be in touch and I will take you on a White House tour and if your parents allow it, I will give you some White House M&M's.

Chari, from St. Petersburg, FL writes:
Does the new interim Iraqi constitution have definite statements on the rights of Iraqi women as far as jobs, government, education, economic affairs, and social affairs? I hope it does, because in order for Iraq to be successful as a country going towards a democratically elected government, Iraqi women must have a voice in all affairs of their lives as well as for their families, especially the children.

Shirin Tahir-Kheli
The new Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) guarantees the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Iraqis - men and women. It includes freedom of religious belief and practice, the right to free expression, peaceful assembly, to organize political parties, and to form and join labor unions.

The TAL outlaws discrimination based on gender, nationality, religion and ethnic origin. It also contains a goal of no less than 25 percent of members of the National Assembly should be women.

Molly, from NY,NY writes:
How do you address Women's Rights for each specific country? What issues do you chose to address or not address based on the culture of the country?

Shirin Tahir-Kheli
As you know, women in different countries face different issues. We try to target our programs to meet the different needs of women. The country reports on human rights practices contain descriptions of the condition that women face in countries around the globe.

The country reports are an important tool to formulating our policies and programs. These reports can be found on The latest ones were released on February 25, 2004.

As the President has made clear, the US stands for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the power of the state; free speech; freedom of worship; equal justice; respect for women; religious and ethnic tolerance; and respect for private property.

April, from Portland writes:
Do other governments ask the US for help with certain women's issues or do you feel the US is more proactive in combating many issues?

Shirin Tahir-Kheli
The US has taken a leadership role in promoting and highlighting the importance of human dignity and the key role that women play in each nation's economic, social and political spheres.

We work with governments all over the world to promote the rights of women because we believe that women's rights are critical issues. We encourage full participation by women in their countries.

And even as recently as last week, we were very gratified to see the participation of three women in the drafting and adoption of Transitional Administrative Law in Iraq.

Women have played a leading role in helping to bring democracy to many countries and have paid a personal price for it. For example, in Burma Aung San Suu Kyi, an elected democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner is currently under house arrest. The President has continuously called for her release.

Shirin Tahir-Kheli
I've got to go to a meeting to get ready for the Commission on Human Rights which will start meeting in Geneva on next Monday. Thanks for all your questions.

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