For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
May 22, 2005
Mrs. Bush Delivers Remarks at the World Economic Forum
WEF Conference Center
The Dead Sea, Jordan
10:39 A.M. (Local)
MRS. BUSH: Thank you, and thank you very much, Professor Schwab,
for your very kind introduction. And thanks to you for putting this
great team together for the World Economic Forum. I want to express my
very deep thanks to His Majesty King Abdullah II and to Her Majesty
Queen Rania Abdullah for welcoming me here to Jordan.
Your country is one of rich history and culture. Since ancient
times, people have marveled at the Dead Sea, and we're privileged to
experience it today. This region is the birthplace of three of the
world's great religions. In the United States, we respect the
traditions of all faiths. On this trip, I will visit Muslim, Jewish,
and Christian holy sites. And most of all, I'm eager to meet some of
the people who call the Middle East their home.
Tomorrow I'll visit a Discovery School with Queen Rania and talk
with the young people who are the future of Jordan. A hopeful and
peaceful future for all children is a priority of the King and Queen --
and for President Bush and me. Queen Rania has spoken eloquently about
the "hope gap." Too many children in my own country experience it. I'm
working on an initiative to prevent young boys and girls from joining
gangs or choosing a life of crime and drugs.
Almost everywhere I go, people who work with children tell me
they've identified three crucial things that all children need to
achieve their full potential: They need caring adults to love and
support them and help them make good decisions, they need a good
education, and they need to gain the skills required in today's
workplace so that they can find jobs. The prospect of finding a good
job is vital to self-confidence, pride, and hope for a better future.
President Bush and I want a future of peace and opportunity for our
own daughters and for all the world's children.
Mothers and fathers the world over are united in the desire for a
hopeful and bright future for their children.
Today we are meeting at a historic moment, a time of unprecedented
opportunity. Throughout the world and here in the Middle East, we're
witnessing the advance of freedom.
President Bush and I recently visited Eastern Europe, where nations
set free after the fall of communism are embracing democracy. They are
an example to citizens in other nations who are taking responsibility
for their own futures.
Now we're seeing a springtime of hope across the Middle East. Brave
men and women are writing a new chapter in the story of
self-government. They're going to the polls in Afghanistan, in Iraq
and in the Palestinian Territories.
In Lebanon, men and women raised their voices in Martyr's Square.
They called for an end to occupation and an opportunity to vote freely.
Just this week, we were all delighted to hear that after twenty years
of courageous advocacy, and at the urging of the Amir, Kuwait's
parliament granted full political rights to the women of Kuwait.
Earlier this week, the wife of Kuwait's Foreign Minister spoke at a
luncheon at the Kuwaiti Ambassador's residence in Washington. She looks
forward to the day when men stand with their wives, their mothers,
their sisters and their daughters to cast votes and serve in
Women who have not yet won these rights are watching. They are
calling on the conscience of their countrymen, making it clear that if
the right to vote is to have any meaning, it cannot be limited only to
In my country, women didn't secure the right to vote until more
than a century after our nation's founding. But now we know that a
nation can only achieve its best future and its brightest potential
when all of its citizens, men and women, participate in the government
and in decision-making.
I'm reminded of what Vaclav Havel, the former President of the
Czech Republic, once told me. Vaclav Havel -- playwright, intellectual,
freedom fighter, political prisoner, then President of the Czech
Republic -- said to me, "Laura, you know, democracy is hard because it
requires the participation of all the people."
All people -- men and women -- want to contribute to the success of
their country. And all people -- men and women -- must have the
opportunity to do so. The question that faces emerging democracies is
how to foster participation by all citizens. This morning, I'll discuss
two key ways.
First, education helps freedom thrive. Citizens who are educated
can choose for themselves, make up their own minds, and assume their
responsibilities as citizens. And second, we must ensure that women
acquire the political and economic access to become full participants
in society. I'm inspired by the words of Farahnaz Nazir, founder of the
Afghanistan Women's Association. She said, "Society is like a bird. It
has two wings. And a bird cannot fly if one wing is broken." Let me
begin with education. As the information technology revolution sweeps
around the world, education is becoming even more important to building
free and prosperous societies. But the impact of education reaches much
Education can help children see beyond a world of hate and
hopelessness to one of unlimited opportunity. Education helps free the
mind from ignorance and bigotry. Education unleashes the creative
contributions of every citizen, to improve their own lives and to build
the common good. Education benefits all, and education should be
available to all.
In the United States, we make schools a national priority. We
educate boys and girls, Muslims, Christians, Jews, and people of all
different faiths, children of different races and cultures -- all
children, whether their families are wealthy or poor. Yet in many parts
of the world, school is a luxury, unavailable to many children or only
offered to a select few. And too often, girls are kept from school by
custom, lack of resources and oppression.
The result is that far too many people cannot read and cannot seize
the opportunities that come with education. According to UNESCO -- the
United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization -- 800
million people worldwide cannot read or write. Two-thirds of them are
women, and, of course, many are mothers. Across the broader Middle East
and North Africa, more than 75 million women and more than 45 million
men are illiterate.
These collective numbers are staggering, but we must remember that
there is a human life behind each one -- a person whose opportunity and
options are limited because he or she doesn't have basic skills. Each
of these lives matter greatly to us, and each matters.
As the Honorary Ambassador for the United Nations Decade of
Literacy, I'm asking all nations to help people acquire literacy
skills. A mother's ability to read and write is especially important.
Our mothers are our first teachers, and children's success is linked
closely to theirs. Children who are read to from a very early age are
more likely to begin reading early themselves. They're more likely to
excel in school, to graduate from secondary school, and to go to a
university. They're more likely to love learning and to value
President Bush and I believe that education is vital to every
mother and every child. The United States is working with our G8
partners and with regional ministers to broaden literacy, to expand
education -- especially for women and girls -- and to promote training
that will prepare people for the 21st century workplace. Ministers have
set a goal of helping 20 million people gain literacy skills by 2015.
In a few days, they'll meet here in Jordan to discuss their progress
and to see how we can move closer to achieving the goal.
His Majesty the King has demonstrated his commitment to education.
His nation's literacy rate has reached 90 percent. Jordan is working to
reach gender parity in the schools. Through innovative partnerships
with Jordanian and American technology firms, Jordan is ensuring that
all children will have the skills they need to be part of the IT
revolution and to find jobs in the marketplace.
The United States is pleased to support Jordan's effort to expand
early education by making kindergarten programs available to all
children in public school. Together, we're working to rehabilitate more
than 120 classrooms so that children in some of the most remote and
poorest parts of Jordan can attend kindergarten. And we're helping to
train teachers with the most effective methods.
Through President Bush's Middle East Partnership Initiative, we're
working with partners in Jordan, Lebanon, and Bahrain to distribute
translated children's books to elementary schools. This year, we'll be
providing more than two million books to children across the region.
The goal of this program, called "My Arabic Library," is to put books
in the classrooms, and to encourage school principals, teachers,
parents and community leaders to emphasize the importance of early
Books designed to help children read can also help mothers improve
their own reading skills. When we work with children and mothers in
literacy programs, we can help two generations at once.
We also recognize that young people who have English-language
skills, in addition to Arabic, have more opportunities to find work and
to improve their lives. This year, the United States will greatly
expand its English language scholarship program to reach more than
13,000 young people.
Jordanian publisher Dina Zorba understands the benefits of
literacy. Dina has started four magazines highlighting issues
important to youth and women. One of her magazines, "Sharqiyat," was
one of Jordan's first publications to tackle difficult issues, such as
violence against women.
As freedom becomes a fact of life for rising generations in the
Middle East, young people need to grow up with a full understanding of
freedom's rights and responsibilities: The right to discuss any issue
in the public sphere, and the responsibility to respect other people
and their opinions. People who can read a magazine or a newspaper or a
textbook can gain the knowledge and skills to help shape their
countries, and their own futures.
Every person should have the ability to read -- and even more than
that, the freedom to read what they wish, to form their own opinions,
and to speak their minds without fear.
Freedom, especially freedom for women, is more than the absence of
oppression. It's the right to speak and vote and worship freely. Human
rights require the rights of women. And human rights are empty promises
without human liberty.
In the last few years, women have made extraordinary progress in
the broader Middle East, especially in Afghanistan. We must never
forget -- and we must always repudiate -- the cruel and inhumane
treatment of women by the Taliban that left Afghan women suffering in
silence. By refusing to allow girls to go to school and by forbidding
women to work and support themselves and their families, the Taliban
were trying to prevent women from participation in life. That is a
terrible injustice, and it's unacceptable in any society.
Today, Afghan women are relishing their new freedom. More than two
million little girls are back in school. Women are heading back to the
classrooms themselves, and as teachers. And with new business training,
Afghan women are turning ancient crafts like rug-making into
Afghan women are also participating in political life. Eight
million people voted in Afghanistan in the October elections, and forty
percent of them were women.
The new Afghan constitution is one of the most progressive
documents on women's rights in the Muslim world. Women now serve as
government ministers. And for the first time ever, a woman was
appointed a provincial governor.
People in other countries are also exercising their rights. In
January, Iraqi citizens overcame intimidation and hardship to cast
their votes. A recent college graduate from Baghdad described the
debates about voting in her household.
The young woman had four sisters and their father wanted them to
stay home because he thought it was too dangerous. But all five sisters
insisted on going to the polls, and they took their father with them.
In Morocco, courageous women called for changes to the century-old
Family Code, the Moudawana, to ensure that women have equal legal
rights in marriage and other family matters. More than one million
Moroccans petitioned their government to reform the Family Code.
Today, through the leadership of King Mohammed VI, the new law is
in place. And it demonstrates to the world that Islamic values are
consistent with the universal rights -- principles of human rights.
Americans are inspired by the courage and the determination of
women throughout the Middle East, and we want to be partners in helping
them move forward. Next week, more than 200 women from 17 Middle
Eastern and North African countries will come together in Tunis for a
Business Women's Summit. The Summit will provide leadership training
and give women a global business network that can help them start and
We hope this will result in many more women becoming successful
entrepreneurs, women like Muna Hamdan.
Fifteen years ago, Muna started her business by selling homemade
pickles and jams at a vegetable market. Now she's expanded into real
estate, and she helped her sons start their own business. Muna was
helped by loans from the Jordan Micro Credit Company, which is funded
by the USAID. But she did the hard work herself.
Muna was given the Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2002. She is a
wonderful example of how the partnership between America and Jordan can
directly benefit people's lives, not only by extending credit, but also
by spreading the spirit of entrepreneurship that allows people to build
better lives for themselves and for their families.
Our challenge is to help more women gain the confidence and the
credit to start their own businesses. When women have the resources to
participate in the markets, they can make wise decisions for themselves
and their families, and they can contribute to civil society.
Many of you are actively involved in these and other partnerships
and I appreciate your leadership. The United States will continue to
support education and freedom for all people in all countries. As
President Bush said in his inaugural address in January, "Our goal is
to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedoms, and
make their own way."
We believe that the world is witnessing a new era of expanding
liberty and growing opportunity for women and men worldwide. And they
are discovering a great truth: Life is improved by liberty. The spread
of democracy encourages the values of democracy: respect for human
life, love of peace, the freedom to worship as you choose, and
tolerance for others.
The pace of this improvement will vary from country to country. But
we see hopeful signs in many places. And we believe that one day, every
family will know the dignity of freedom.
Thank you very much for your commitment to improving lives in the
Middle East and around the world. And thank you for inviting me here
END 10:59 A.M. (Local)