Laura Bush, Daughters Promote Women's Rights at Clinton Global Initiative

Thursday, 23 Sep 2010 09:40 AM

By Dan Weil

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Former first lady Laura Bush and daughters Jenna and Barbara are pressing for women’s rights, education, and health to solve worldwide problems, including disease, poverty, and even terrorism.

The wife of former President George W. Bush and their daughters addressed the issues during a New York panel Wednesday at the sixth annual Clinton Global Initiative, which is a forum to connect corporate donors with nonprofit groups.

“One of the things I’ve seen in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban is the rise of women there,” Laura said. “Women have a chance for the first time in decades to be a part of civic life.”

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One woman Laura met ran a secret school in her basement while the Taliban was in power. After the Taliban left, she gained financing from American women through the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council. That enabled her to open about 40 women’s centers that provide education for children and adults.

“She said, ‘Don’t feel sorry for us, be with us,’” Laura said. “That’s what all of us need to do for women all over world.”

Gender inequity is a big issue around the world, she noted.

“We know that women are two-thirds of the world’s illiterate, and women are much more likely to be marginalized,” Laura said. “If we look at countries where women are really left out, we usually see failed economies and failed countries.”

Jenna said she has learned from her job as a teacher in Baltimore and previous work for UNICEF in Latin America that education is crucial to break the cycles of poverty and disease.

“When people have access to education and the opportunity to succeed, then those two cycles get broken,” she said.

Jenna worked with a 17-year-old single mother whose own mother didn’t know she was HIV positive because she’s illiterate. “She didn’t know how to keep her daughters healthy when pregnant,” Jenna said.

The girl Jenna worked with became educated and took her medicine so that her own daughters are HIV negative. “Health, education and poverty are all intertwined,” Jenna said.

Barbara worked in a children’s hospital in South Africa after she graduated from college. “I saw the need for innovation, energy and ideas of anyone committed to health to make changes in that space,” she said.

So after she returned to the United States, Barbara founded Global Health Corps, which aims improve healthcare for the poor around the world and to help inspire new global health leaders.

“Our mission is to build the next generation of leaders in health,” Barbara said. “If we want to make changes, we need more bright young people with diverse skill sets entering this space and seeing healthcare can be a career option.”

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