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Powell Remarks on Afghan Women

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Office of the Spokesman For Immediate Release

November 19, 2001

REMARKS BY SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN L. POWELL ON AFGHAN WOMEN AT THE OLD EXECUTIVE OFFICE BUILDING

November 19, 2001 Hilton Washington Hotel Washington, D.C.

2:55 P.M. EST

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you. It is a great pleasure to welcome you all here this afternoon, and I see so many friends in the audience that I dare not start around. But I do welcome you all. I'm sorry I'm a few minutes late. I'm just back from the University of Louisville, where I gave a speech on the world and also on the Middle East, and from here I'll be moving directly to a Cabinet meeting with Secretary Veneman and Mr. Todd Whitman, our Administrator of the EPA. And we'll be going to meet the President shortly.

But I did not want this meeting to go forward without having an opportunity to come by and let you know that I, as a personal matter, and all my colleagues in the State Department, fully support President Bush's commitment to ensure that the women of Afghanistan have a voice in the future of their country.

Denied education, denied health care, denied the opportunity to work and feed their families, denied the most basic forms of self- expression, the women of Afghanistan were made prisoners in their own country, even in their own homes. The conditions under which the women of Afghanistan have been forced to live are unimaginable. There is absolutely nothing in the faith of Islam to justify their cruel treatment at the hands of the Taliban.

And I want you to know that President Bush and this entire Administration cannot imagine a stable, post-Taliban Afghanistan without the involvement of women in all aspects of the humanitarian reconstruction and development efforts that will be undertaken. (Applause.)

During these years of great suffering, the women of Afghanistan have been the backbone of the Afghan society. It is in large measure a thanks to their endurance, their ingenuity, their courage that their country has survived. The recovery of Afghanistan must entail the restoration of the rights of Afghan women. Indeed, it will not be possible without them. The rights of the women of Afghanistan will not be negotiable. (Applause.)

I cannot tell you what a pleasure it was for me in the newspaper this morning to see that woman come out with all of the children she had secretly been teaching over all those years, at such great personal risk. And especially, last night, to see in my television screen, the television station opening up in Kabul again, working. Somebody had kept it ready. And there we had the three anchors, two women and a man.

And so I am not worried about the women of Afghanistan taking care of themselves. (Laughter.) They will be heard, and they will be seen. (Applause.) And from what we hear of your efforts and what we hear from all of you, and from the reports that are streaming out of the country now as the Taliban retreat, the women of Afghanistan, as we have seen in recent days, are eager and ready to resume their active participation in the life of the country.

These remarkable women include lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers and civic leaders. Many have taken great risks, as we saw, to teach their daughters and to preserve and practice their professional skills in secret. They have helped one another and their children to keep hope alive for the moment when their rights could be restored, for the moment when they could reemerge into the sunlight and help their country onto freedom's path.

That day is near, very near. In fact, the dawn has broken. And when the light is fully shed throughout all of Afghanistan, the United States is committed to working to ensure not only that the women of Afghanistan regain their place in the sun, but they have a place in their future government as well. (Applause.)

The new government of Afghanistan must be broad-based and representational, and that means it must include women. It must respect the rights of Afghan women to choose how they will participate in their society. In every message that we have taken out to the new potential leaders of Afghanistan, we have emphasized the point that whatever comes after the Taliban must be broad-based, must include every element of Afghan society.

We have taken this message to other countries, to the United Nations, and to the Afghans themselves. The report that we just issued on Saturday makes our commitment clear. And just last Friday, my representative to the Afghan opposition, Ambassador Jim Dobbins, met with Afghan women in Peshawar, Pakistan. We wanted to do that early to send a strong signal.

And tomorrow, Treasury Secretary O'Neill and I will co-host, with Mrs. Sadako Ogata, Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan's personal representative on Afghanistan. We will all co-chair a kickoff conference on major donors and international institutions for the reconstitution, the reconstruction of Afghan society. We will affirm our collective commitment to rebuild Afghanistan schools and hospitals, restore agriculture and small-scale enterprises, de-mine roads and villages. In all of these efforts and more, we will insist the women play prominent roles as planners, implementers, and beneficiaries. (Applause.)

Under Secretary Dobriansky and I welcome your thoughts and suggestions on how we can improve the lot of women and girls of Afghanistan and help them become full participants in the future of their country. We want to continue to work in partnership with you in these crucial weeks and months ahead and in the years that follow. You are the last people that need convincing that this must be a long-term effort.

The State Department's Office of International Women's Issues, which comes under Under Secretary Dobriansky's direct authority, will serve as your key point of contact. Before I turn the floor over to Paula, I want to emphasize that the United States' strong support for the rights of the women of Afghanistan did not suddenly appear after September 11th. It is longstanding, it is bipartisan, and it is more determined than ever.

We are at a historic moment in the life of that country. A despotic regime is on its last legs. It's a regime that has subjected the people of Afghanistan to the most terrible deprivations. But they are on their way out. But we will fail in our overall campaign and mission if we don't now come together as an international community to feed the people of Afghanistan with such desperate need this coming winter. And if we do everything we can to help reconstitute Afghan society and give people hope for a better future, we will not fail. And with your help, I'm sure we will not fail.

Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)

Now, I have to leave for a Cabinet meeting and take two of my colleagues with me. But I would now like to turn the meeting over to Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky, who is doing just a great job with our women's issues and these sorts of global issues.

Paula, all yours. (Applause.)

3:05 p.m. EDT

###

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