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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Secretary Antony J. Blinken At the Alliance for Afghan Women’s Economic Resilience Summit

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good morning.  (Applause.)

MS AMIRI:  Good morning, everyone.  It is my distinct honor to welcome you to the Alliance for Afghan Women’s Economic Resilience Summit.  Today marks 898 days since Afghan girls were banned from secondary school, 890 days since Afghan women were told to stay home from work.  As a woman, imagine being stripped of your profession and the capacity to earn and feed your family.  As a parent, imagine looking into the eyes of your 12-year-old and telling her that she can no longer go to school and the door to her hopes and her dreams have closed.  As a spouse or family member, imagine seeing the potential of the women and girls in your family squandered.  As a citizen, imagine half of your population’s participation potential and economic contribution erased overnight.

We start at this somber note to anchor you in the surreal situation in Afghanistan and to really get you to understand the immense hurdles Afghan women are facing and what they are trying to overcome to get their right back to education and to work.  On each of your seats and scattered throughout the venue, you have letters from schoolgirls from inside Afghanistan.  We ask that you read these letters with a couple of key points in mind.  One, Afghan women and girls are not asking us to see them as victims.  They are asking you to recognize their dignified struggle for their rights.  Two, they want us to engage them as partners.  And three, they ask us to be guided by their creativity, their resilience, and their determination.

We have attempted to answer this call through the establishment of the Afghan Women’s Economic Resilience Initiative, which we launched in 2022.  The alliance – or AWER, as we call it – is a public-private partnership between the Department of State and Boston University that catalyzes innovative and scalable collaborations between the private sector, civil society, academia, government, and Afghan women leaders to support Afghan women’s education, employment, and entrepreneurship.  We launched it in 2022, and we are going to announce some of the efforts that we have been able to put in place.

Through the next few hours, you will hear from our partners, from Afghan women, and from a number of – about a number of initiatives that we have put together to capture the spirit and approach that Afghan women have asked us to be guided by.  It is our fervent hope that you will join us in this effort.  Everyone has a role to play.

And with that, I have the honor of welcoming U.S. Secretery of State Antony Blinken, without whose leadership and support none of this would be possible.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Good morning.  Good morning, everyone.  Welcome to the State Department.

To our Special Envoy Amiri, Rina, thank you not only for the introduction but thank you for the truly remarkable work that you, Ambassador Gupta, Special Representative West, Assistant Secretary Lu, and all of your teams are doing every single day to fight for Afghan women and girls.

So as Rina said, when she started, in sort of setting the picture that all of you know so well, it’s extraordinarily challenging, but today represents a real ray of light in some of the darkness.  And again, that’s because of the work that so many of you are engaged in.

Thanks to our leadership team, thanks to Boston University, joining forces in 2022 to launch the Alliance for Afghan Women’s Economic Resilience.  We have seen results, and it’s even more extraordinary given the environment in which those results have been achieved.

We developed this initiative to try to grow public-private partnerships that would benefit women and girls living in Afghanistan under a Taliban that severely represses their rights – and help Afghan women and girls who fled the country, including those who came here to the United States.  Together we’re investing in skills, we’re investing in training, we’re investing in job opportunities, we’re investing in women entrepreneurs.

And that mission is simply more important than it’s ever been.

As you all know, the Taliban continues to deny women and girls access to secondary school and universities, blocks their participation in entire sectors of the Afghan economy.  They continue to limit the movements of women and girls outside their homes, and persecute those who speak up or speak out.

The Taliban’s decrees violate women’s fundamental freedoms and human rights in the most basic ways.

But maybe more important, in a sense, or something that needs to be recognized, is they also go against the will of the people of Afghanistan.  Surveys show that more than 85 percent of the population believes that women should have equal access to education.

The Taliban’s restrictions are also suffocating Afghanistan’s potential.  If women and girls were able to learn, able to work, the whole country would benefit.  Women could put food on their family’s tables; they would add over a billion dollars to the Afghan economy.  Economic opportunity is a prerequisite for sustainable peace and sustainable security, so women’s contributions would also help create a more resilient society.  This is Afghanistan’s loss if women and girls are not allowed to reach their full potential.

Here’s what we know, and Rina said it:  Women and girls are determined to study.  They’re determined to chart their own path.  They’re determined to contribute to the future of their communities despite the extraordinary obstacles that they face.

As I was coming down here in the elevator with Rina, I was recounting a meeting I had just about two weeks ago in Albania, which has been a remarkable partner in helping us bring Afghan partners out of Afghanistan and eventually to the United States.  And among the Afghans I met who had relatively recently come to Albania but would be on their way to the United States was a young family – mother and father who were determined that their five children, no matter the conditions, would continue to have access to education.  Their kids, before the Taliban came back, had been at the top of each of their classes in Afghanistan.  This is a family that was very determined about making sure that not only were their kids in school, but were succeeding and achieving in school.

Then, with the return of the Taliban, the girls, of course, were no longer in school.  I met the two – two of their daughters, twins, 14 years old.  They’d been in Albania for just a few months.  Their English was extraordinary, in part as a result of the programs that we have the privilege of helping to conduct.  One of the daughters was determined to go into fashion design; the other was determined to go into business.  Of course, I tried to put them together: Now, if you want to do the fashion design, you want to do the business, this is perfect.  You can – but it’s hard to describe, and I know so many of you know this from your own families, from your own experiences, from the people you know – it’s hard to describe fully this absolute thirst and absolute determination for learning, for education.

And they told me the stories of how, even after the return of the Taliban, they’d found ways to somehow connect and to try to stay current with their education.  It was, on one level, exhilarating to meet these young people, who I know are now actually about to be resettled in Virginia; but also just underscored the tragic loss for Afghanistan of having so many of its people sidelined and have such challenge in trying to meet their full potential.

Countries from around the world, though, are determined to support Afghan women and girls who want to learn, who want to go to school, who want to pursue their educations, who want to work.  Countries like Indonesia and Qatar, which have coordinated international efforts to expand educational opportunity for Afghan women, or the more than 70 countries – more than 70 countries in the Middle East, from Asia, from Europe, from the Americas – who came together in a joint statement at the United Nations calling for, and I quote: the full, the equal, the meaningful participation of women and girls in Afghan society.

The United States is proud to be part of these and a number of other efforts.  Over the last two years, we have grown the Alliance for Afghanistan Women’s Economic Resilience, recruiting more partners, developing additional programs.  Boston University has played a vital role, and we are so grateful for that partnership, helping the alliance design the initiatives based on research, but also based on consultations with Afghan women leaders, making sure that the programs are accessible for the participants.

Soon the alliance will begin offering three new kinds of programs, and I just wanted to briefly touch on them today.

First, the alliance will provide virtual training and skills-building courses for Afghan women around the world so that they can get jobs and earn an income.

For example, the Qatari Government, the Qatari foundation Education Above All, and the American education company Coursera will provide hundreds of thousands of Afghan women with technical job training classes.  Microsoft, LinkedIn, will give women a chance to earn certifications, and then connect them with employers so that they can put their new skills to use.

Second, the United States and the Education Above All foundation will provide scholarships so Afghan women refugees in the United States can finish their bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Third, the alliance will support Afghan women as they start and then grow their own businesses.  Arizona State University’s business school is going to be offering free online courses; Meta will provide training in subjects like financial literacy and digital marketing so that entrepreneurs can learn how to scale up their operations, reach new customers, create jobs for others in their communities.

Finally, the alliance will continue providing opportunities for Afghan women around the world to work with mentors in their fields. Two years ago the tech company Pod started this initiative and, now, Microsoft and LinkedIn are joining in as well.

Already what we’ve seen in a short space of time is these efforts have given women someone to turn to when they have questions, when they need advice – about the challenges that come with starting a business, finding study materials, or building up their resumes.  By growing these programs, we will bring this kind of support to more and more women just like them.

Every single one of these initiatives builds on other efforts to support all the people of Afghanistan – not only women and girls.

Going back to 2021, we’ve contributed food and agricultural assistance to feed families; we’ve delivered essential medical care to vulnerable patients; we’ve mentored journalists; we’ve trained healthcare workers; we’ve provided lifesaving humanitarian assistance, including to displaced families after the devastating earthquake just last October.

On these and so many other issues, we have benefitted from the partnership and leadership of extraordinary Afghan women – people like the speakers you’re going to be hearing from today.

There are a lot of opportunities.  Even in this incredibly challenged environment and this incredibly challenging time, there are many opportunities for everyone in this room to support and to collaborate with these women and other women like them.

So, whether you’re here today from the private sector, academia, civil society, government – join us.  Join us in this alliance.  Join us in its essential mission of helping Afghan women and girls realize their full potential and, yes, actually build a brighter future, not only for themselves but – I know this will happen – for Afghanistan and, given the extraordinary contributions I’ve already seen Afghan women and girls make, for the entire world.

Thank you so much for being here today.

(Applause.)  Thank you.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-at-the-alliance-for-afghan-womens-economic-resilience-summit/

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