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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
March 8, 2002

Mrs. Bush's Remarks on International Women's Day at the United Nations
United Nations Headquarters
New York, New York

Thank you, Mister Moderator. Queen Noor, Secretary (General) and Mrs. Annan, Ambassador Kolby,
Ms. King, distinguished guests, I'm so glad to be here at the United Nations on this International Women's Day — a day that has been marked with pride and promise since 1975 — International Women's Year.

Laura Bush pauses during her remarks on the plight of Afghani women to the United Nations International Women's Day Conference "Afghan Women Today: Realities and Opportunities" at the United National Headquarter in New York, March 8, 2002.  White House photo by Susan SternerI am here to voice my strong support for the courageous people of Afghanistan — women and men who have suffered for years under the Taliban regime. I applaud the international community for its concern for women and families in Afghanistan around the world. And I applaud Chairman Karzai for his leadership during this important time.

The terrorist attacks of September 11 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 a country where women were denied their rights and their place in society.

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. Many women were in professions — they were teachers, doctors, and lawyers. And today many will be returning to those professions.

This is a time of rebuilding — of unprecedented opportunity — thanks to efforts led by the United Nations, the United States, the new Afghan government, and our allies around the world. With opportunity comes an obligation. Much work remains to be done.

The United States' current efforts reflect a long-standing commitment. The United States is the largest and one of the longest continuous supporters of UN humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan, and we will continue to be.

  • We have committed at least $1.5 million to help Afghan women work and support their families, some for the first time in years. Many women are now heads of households, having lost their husbands during the 23 years of war. In Kabul and Mazar-E-Sharif, the U.S. is sending wheat to 21 bakeries run by widows who earn a living and feed their own families. These bakeries help feed one-quarter of Kabul's population, and more will be built.


  • Women, children and widows who were forced to flee to refugee camps are now returning home to Afghanistan. Today, the United States has helped some 150,000 people return, and we have pledged about $50.2 million dollars in support for community-based health, education, shelter, water and sanitation projects.


  • American boys and girls are contributing a dollar each through American's Fund For Afghan Children. So far American children have sent more than $4 million dollars for food, shelter, clothing, healthcare and toys for Afghan children.

A major focus is on education. Recently I met with Chairman Karzai, and I presented him with a children's dictionary which symbolized the importance the United States places on education. Prosperity cannot follow peace without educated women and children. When people are educated, all the indexes of a society improve. For example:

  • Improvements in women's education have contributed the most by far to the total decline in child malnutrition;
  • And mothers with a secondary education have children with mortality rates nearly 36 percent lower than mothers with only a primary school education.

Mrs. Bush spoke about the importance of helping Afghan women and children in a speech to the United Nations, March 8, 2002. White House photo by Susan Sterner.

In two weeks, Afghan boys and girls start school — many for the first time. The world will be watching on the first day of school, as teachers take their long-vacant places and students open their books for their first lessons.

Through a number of projects, the United States is committed to helping the Afghan people redevelop their educational system. The U.S. Agency for International Development is sending almost 10 million Pashto and Dari language textbooks to Afghan schools.

When school starts, the primary grades will have language and math books. More books will follow for secondary education — covering all subjects. We are funding teams of teacher trainers and helping educators develop curricula. And the U.S. helped refurbish the women's dormitory at the University of Kabul so women can remain on campus, in a safe environment.

For primary schools, the Academy for Educational Development just sent 40,000 backpacks filled with slates, chalk, school supplies, and toys for refugee children. This is the backpack — hand-made in Pakistan.

Children who receive these backpacks may have never owned or even seen books and toys. This great effort deserves our support.

When you give children books and an education, you give them the ability to imagine a future of opportunity, equality and justice. Education is the single most important long-term investment we can make in the future.

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."

Today, on International Women's Day, we affirm our mission to protect human rights for women in Afghanistan and around the world. And we affirm our support of all Afghans as they recover from war and injustice.

Farahnaz Nazir, founder of the Afghanistan Women's Association said, "Society is like a bird. It has two wings. And a bird cannot fly if one wing is broken."

Our dedication to respecting and protecting women's rights in all countries must continue if we are to achieve a peaceful, prosperous, and stable world.

In his State of the Union address to the United States Congress, President Bush said:

"All fathers and mothers, in all societies, want their children to be educated, and live free from poverty and violence....No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them."

Human dignity, private property, free speech, equal justice, education, and health care — these rights must be guaranteed throughout the world. Together, the United Sates, the United Nations and our allies will prove that the forces of terror can't stop the momentum of freedom. Thank you.

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