First Lady Laura Bush says that “a sisterhood between the women of the United States and the women of Afghanistan” has developed since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001. Mrs. Bush told the U.S.- Afghan Women’s Council Roundtable that the plight of Afghan women under Taliban rule inspired a “very strong feeling of American women to help women in Afghanistan.” The U.S.- Afghan partnership, says Mrs. Bush “is yielding promising results.” In an interview with the Voice of America, she said Afghanistan has taken “huge steps”:
“There has been an election, two elections in fact, and so many people have voted including many, many women. . . .A constitution has been written. . .schools have been built, children are back in school, really all over Afghanistan. I mean those are very, very dramatic changes.”
In 2001, only eight percent of Afghans had access to basic health care. Today that number is around eighty percent. Two years ago, only thirty-five percent of Afghans had been inoculated against polio. Today, ninety-five percent of Afghans have received vaccinations, including seven million children. Child mortality rates have dropped by nearly twenty-five percent.
Perhaps the most dramatic changes have come in education. Under the Taliban, only nine-hundred-thousand children were in school, almost all of them boys. Today, more than five million Afghan children are in school, including nearly two million girls. “Education is the single most important function that the government can provide,” said Mrs. Bush, “because it will make all the difference for the next generations of Afghanis.”
In some areas, Afghanistan’s schoolchildren still face a deadly threat from Taliban terrorists. Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai told the Afghan parliament that in southern and south-western Afghanistan, “around three-hundred-thousand children can’t go to school from the fear of the terrorists.” Mrs. Bush says now is the time to stand up for the rights of Afghan children:
“I understand the fear that particularly women, but women and men, have, in Afghanistan when they talk about education: something that was denied before during the Taliban. And I urge the people of Afghanistan to stand together and say, it’s so important for our children to have better lives -- for them to be educated.”
First Lady Laura Bush says she “is proud of all the ways the United States government has been involved with education” in Afghanistan and urges the Afghan people to continue their efforts “to build a good, safe, and decent country.”