First Lady Laura Bush, in an Op-Ed for the Washington Post
, warns that NATO's leaders should not ignore the plight of Afghan women as they meet this weekend in Chicago.
Bush was first lady from 2001 through January 2009 and is the honorary chair of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council and chairwoman of the Women’s Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. She has been an advocate for education, and particularly the education of girls and women around the globe.
Bush writes about the peril Afghanistan's families faced before the United States intervened in the region.
"But the Afghan story is changing. Over the past 10 years, there has been remarkable progress. Four thousand schools have been built, and more than 100,000 new teachers have entered the classroom. Today, girls make up 37 percent of the 7 million Afghan students in primary and secondary schools. During Taliban rule, only 900,000 children, all male, attended school.
"Adult learning has also accelerated. More than 62,000 Afghans attend universities. The co-educational American University of Afghanistan, which opened in 2006 with 50 students, has more than 1,700 full and part-time students and offers Afghanistan’s leading MBA program. This fall, a record 52 Afghans will come to the United States as Fulbright scholars. A basic literacy and math education program that I visited in 2008 is reaching more than 300,000 Afghan adults, 60 percent of them women."
Bush also says the private sector has sponsored many programs, established foundations and generated higher learning centers for women.
"Despite these gains, however, Afghanistan’s progress remains tenuous. A March 2 fatwa from the Ulema Council, which advises the Afghan government on religious matters, actively encouraged a return to shades of Taliban-era female repression, including support for husbands beating their wives. It said that women should not travel without a male relative and also declared men to be “fundamental” and women “secondary.” In this climate, Afghan women understandably fear losing everything."
Bush calls on NATO leaders to rememeber women's needs during their meeting this weekend in Chicago and ensure the vital gains made are not lost.
"The United States and NATO deserve international gratitude for their role in helping to improve the lives of women in Afghanistan. But now, as the U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan changes, the world must remember the women of Afghanistan.
"She adds, "At their gathering, NATO officials have an opportunity to communicate that aid, investment and alliances are not guaranteed if women are simply to be treated as a bargaining chip.
"Having already seen the terrible cost of denying the most basic of human freedoms, do we dare risk the consequences now of abandoning the women of Afghanistan?"
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