AFGHAN WOMEN’S GAINS ARE AT RISK
This post originally appeared in the Washington Post.
Last year, two female acting directors of women’s affairs in Laghman province were assassinated. This August, a female member of parliament was kidnapped, and a senator was injured in an ambush of her car and her 8-year-old daughter was killed. Soon after, the country’s top female police officer was fatally shot as she left her home. Last month,Afghanistan’s only female candidate for next year’s presidential election was disqualified. Khadija Ghaznawi was running on a platform of education and jobs to give young men better options than joining the Taliban.
For many Americans, the situation in Afghanistan seems too complex and too far away to confront. I worry that the message we are sending to Afghan men, women and children is that their lives are not worth our time or attention. That message must change. We cannot abandon them.
As our military forces leave, key organizations that provide educational and economic opportunity for women are staying. They are not giving up on Afghanistan or its women.
ARZU, a private company started in 2004 by an American woman, provides Afghan women with steady income by sourcing and selling rugs they weave. Women who work for ARZU are required to send their children, boys and girls, to school. The women are given a safe place to work and a haven for their children. By adding to their family’s income, these women earn greater respect from their husbands. I thought it was symbolically important to buy ARZU rugs for American public places such as the White House. Since returning to Dallas, I have ordered them for the Bush Institute and my home.
In Kabul in 2005, I announced the opening of the American University of Afghanistan, the country’s only private, not-for-profit university for men and women. This spring, enrollment reached 958 students — half of them women. Students are graduating with degrees in education, business, computer science and more. An International Center for Afghan Women’s Economic Development has opened at the university, and people can donate directly to the university to provide scholarships for young women.
Other nonprofits, such as the Aschiana Foundation, fill critical needs. Aschiana, which offers food, health care, literacy and vocational training for children, recently rescued a 6-year-old girl who was being sold into marriage by her family to pay off a debt. With the help of an anonymous donor, they kept her with her family.
Many American corporations and private organizations, including Kate Spade New York, Women for Women International and Sesame Workshop, are trying to improve the lives of women and girls in Afghanistan. They may not make headlines, but they are making a difference.
We know from our own history — from the Civil War to women’s suffrage and civil rights — how hard and long the path to freedom is. As the people of Afghanistan continue on their own hard path to freedom, they must know that we are with them.
Laura Bush was first lady of the United States from 2001 to 2009.
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