Secretary Clinton is a forceful and effective champion for women's rights. In the case of Afghanistan, the Secretary is dedicated to ensuring that women's rights will not be negotiated away in the name of peace. As she said in Kabul in July, “If women are silenced or marginalized, prospects for peace and justice will be subverted.”
Working with Afghans in the halls of government and in towns and villages, the Obama Administration is committed to safeguarding women's rights and to ensuring that Afghan women will be represented during the ongoing reintegration and reconciliation process. I know first-hand that the inclusion of women is essential to promoting and sustaining peace and security. This is true everywhere around the world, and no less so in Afghanistan.
On August 8-12, I traveled to Afghanistan. Throughout all my meetings with President Karzai, Presidential Advisor Stanekzai, female ministers, members of civil society, Parliament, civil service, and businesswomen, I reiterated the message that Secretary Clinton delivered during her participation in the July Kabul Conference, that women are integral to peace and security. The main goals of my trip were to focus public attention on women's political inclusion as Afghanistan embarks on its new reintegration process, and to bring awareness to women's security needs and their participation in the upcoming September parliamentary elections. The upcoming elections hold a great deal of promise for Afghanistan's future. Female candidates need security; sufficient numbers of women need to be trained to monitor the polling stations, and adequate numbers of female security staff are needed at the polling stations if women are to be able to participate. The 419 women who have signed up to run for parliament need our support.
Supporting women's equality goes beyond the September elections, however. It also means ensuring the rights of women and girls to attend school, to participate fully in their government and political processes, to establish businesses, to have access to justice, and to live free from violence in their homes, workplaces, and communities.
In my meetings with mid- and high-level businesswomen and financial experts, I realized that we have a lot of work ahead of us if women are to be active participants in growing the Afghan economy. They need access to credit and markets. During my trip, we also announced a new public-private partnership with the Kate Spade Foundation and the NGO Women for Women International. These organizations will extend their existing partnership to Afghanistan, combining traditional Afghan handicrafts with Kate Spade's aesthetic to develop new products that will be sold in Kate Spade stores around the world. The initiative aims to create sustainable employment for 1,000-1,500 Afghan women. With innovative programs like these, we are empowering the women of Afghanistan to take control of their own future.
We are working to build Afghan communities' capacity to address the health and education problems I hear about every day. At the Kabul Conference, the Secretary announced a USD 37 million program focused on maternal and children's health, which will nearly double the number of midwives in the next four years and increase the number of female community health nurses throughout the country. The program will support health advocacy campaigns in which religious and community leaders play a major role. During my trip, I joined Acting Health Minister Dalil for the launch of the U.S.-Egypt-Afghan midwife training program. Thirty midwives will travel to the Suzanne Mubarak Center for Women's Health and Development in Alexandria, Egypt, for enhanced training.
When I visited the Blue Mosque in Mazar-e-Sharif, a mosque that has religious and educational programs for women, the imam stressed that violations of women's rights in the name of Islam contradict the essence of Islam. Promoting education about, and awareness of, women's rights within Islam, and emphasizing that there is no place for violence against women within the religion will help reduce violence against women. We are looking at ways to engage other Muslim countries to develop curricula and work with more imams who understand that Islam and women's rights are compatible.
In my visits to Afghanistan, women have told me about the struggles they face and the work they have undertaken to build a better future. The stories are heartrending. Women in Afghanistan are making extraordinary contributions to their country, whether as activists, civil society leaders, members of parliament, or other members of government. The words of one young Afghan activist still ring in my ears. She said, “Don't look at us as victims, but as the leaders we are."
I believe that the Government of Afghanistan and the country as a whole will benefit immensely if there is strengthened investment in Afghan women. No country can progress if its women are left behind, and no country can achieve peace and security if women do not play a key role in the process.