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Sec. Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush Advocate for Afghan Women's 'Hard Fought Gains'

November 15, 2013 – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former First Lady Laura Bush came to Georgetown today to talk about protecting the progress made by women and girls in Afghanistan after American troops leave the country next year.

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS), which Clinton says may be the “first ever” such institute in the world, co-sponsored the symposium, entitled “Advancing Afghan Women: Promoting Peace and Progress in Afghanistan,” with the George W. Bush Institute; the U.S. Afghan Women’s Council; and the U.S. Alliance in Support of the Afghan People.

“We can point to a lot of progress,” Clinton told a packed Gaston Hall full of diplomats, Georgetown faculty and students. “But we’re well aware this is a serious turning point for all the people of Afghanistan … in particular for the hard-fought gains that women and girls have been able to enjoy and what we can do as Americans to try and support these courageous women and men who want to build the Afghanistan that they imagine.”

Peaceful Transfer of Power

Kerry said U.S. troops leaving is only one part of the equation in Afghanistan for women and everyone in the Islamic republic.

The “single most important milestone” in Afghanistan, he said, will be the “peaceful transfer of power” from President Hamid Karzai to “a democratically elected successor.” The election takes place in April 2014.

Clinton, GIWPS’ honorary founding chair, and Bush are honorary co-chairs of the U.S. Afghan Women’s Council, which connects U.S. and Afghan governments, private sector organizations, academia and nongovernmental organizations to develop and implement initiatives in support of Afghan women and children.

“We don’t want the people of Afghanistan to think that because our troops are leaving they no longer matter to us, because they do matter and the relationships and the friendships we built, especially with Afghan women … really do matter to us,” Bush said, “and I want the people of Afghanistan to know that the people of the United States do support them.”

At a Crossroads

Since 2008, Georgetown has been home to the council, a public-private partnership created in 2002 by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and then-President George W. Bush.

The former secretary of state said GIWPS, headed up by Melanne Verveer (I'66, G'69), former U.S. ambassador for global women’s issues, will establish a “scholarship” that follows up on Obama’s National Plan of Action for Women, which the former secretary of state announced at Georgetown in 2011.

“We’re at a crossroads,” Verveer said at the symposium. “[Afghan] women have made enormous progress … but to say that the women are concerned is an understatement.”

A teleconference with female students at the American University of Afghanistan was also part of the symposium, with Georgetown students waving to their counterparts in Kabul, and a group of Afghani women participating in the symposium in Washington.

Women Taking Control

American’s relationship with Afghanistan is changing, it’s not ending."

John Kerry, Secretary of State

Kerry noted in his speech the progress Afghan women and girls have made, including the increase in education. In 2001, he said only 900,000 children, all boys, were in school. Today, nearly 8 million children are being educated and a third of them are women. He said infant mortality has gone way down, life expectancy is up and 80 percent of women have cell phones in the country.

“As Afghanistan sees women standing up in Afghanistan, taking control of their country’s future, not only for themselves, but for all Afghans,” Kerry said in his address at Georgetown, “we have to be determined that they will not stand alone. America will stand up with them as they shape a strong and united Afghanistan that secures a rightful place in the community of nations.”

He noted the importance of having both countries sign the proposed U.S.-Afghanistan bilateral security agreement in the next two weeks to expedite the security transition in the Islamic republic.

“America’s relationship with Afghanistan is changing, it’s not ending,” Kerry said during the symposium.

Agents of Change

He said this is why President Obama and President Karzai signed a strategic partnership agreement last year that lays out each country’s mutual commitments.

“We have spent a great blood and treasure in Afghanistan,” Kerry said, “and that makes even greater our obligation to get this right.”

Anita Haidry, co-founder of Young Women for Change in Kabul, also spoke at the symposium about the protests she organized in Afghanistan against harassment.

“We didn’t even have a definition for harassment,” she said. “But after our march people started talking about it. …I want you to know we are not stuck in the past … women are not simply victims, we see ourselves as agents of change.”

Georgetown President John J. DeGioia thanked all the speakers and said the university is privileged “to have the opportunity to contribute to this critical work.”

He noted that earlier in the week Georgetown hosted the $1 million Opus Prize, which was awarded to Sakena Yacoobi, an Afghan NGO-creator who attended the symposium.