SECRETARY FLASHING: Well, good morning everyone. And Kat, thank you for not just your good words today – actually for your incredibly powerful words today, which I fully support; In fact, I’m tempted to just drop the mic and say “what she said” – (Laughter) – but for your leadership every day around the world as well as in Afghanistan.
And I just want to acknowledge a few truly exceptional colleagues joining us today, starting with Don Lu, our Deputy Secretary for the Office of South and Central Asian Affairs. Alongside him is Tom West, our special envoy for Afghanistan, and someone I think many of you are familiar with, Rina Amiri, our special envoy for Afghan women, girls and human rights.
Every day, the three together with Kat and many other colleagues ensure that Afghanistan is written with a capital letter and that women and girls in particular are at the center of our focus and determination. And I would like to especially thank Rina for her incredibly dedicated work for the people of Afghanistan. We are really happy to have you on our team. They work tirelessly for Afghan women and girls, their rights and all vulnerable Afghans. Thank you Rina
And I am very grateful to our civil society and private sector partners, including our exceptional panelists. I had a chance to speak to you briefly a few minutes ago.
We are all here today for a reason, and that is to launch a new initiative: The Alliance for Afghan Women’s Economic Resilience. More on that in a few minutes.
But Your Highness, I am also grateful to you for participating today and leading this discussion. Thank you for your commitment not just today, but every day anew. It will be greatly appreciated.
So, as you have heard from Kat, we meet at a deeply challenging time for Afghan women and girls. It’s not a secret to anyone in this room. Since taking power, the Taliban have severely curtailed women’s rights in Afghanistan, reversing two decades of progress that Afghan women themselves have built with support from the international community.
The Taliban have denied women freedom of movement. They have banned girls from secondary school classrooms. They banned women from the workplace, women who last year – again, as Kat said – ran businesses, ran schools, served in government. Many women had to flee to safety; They face extraordinary challenges in rebuilding their lives in new countries.
Women, no matter where they live, should have equal rights in all facets of their lives. Equal opportunities to study, to work; equal access to financial resources; and they should enjoy the same freedoms as everyone else to travel, express themselves and choose their own path.
That should be self-evident for everyone on this planet in 2022. But of course it’s not, and we have to fight for it. We have to fight for that every day.
But right here this week at the United Nations, as the world comes together for High-Level Week, those rights have been enshrined in the preamble to the United Nations Charter. This is the founding document of international relations. It is the founding document, which describes no Western-made rights, nothing invented here or in any particular country, but universal rights that everyone subscribes to, or at least is supposed to subscribe to. The Charter affirms the belief of all peoples of the United Nations “in the fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equality of men and women”. And that’s a direct quote from the charter.
Therefore, there is no better time than now than this week to reaffirm those rights, to reaffirm a common understanding and commitment to those rights, and no more important place to do so than in relation to Afghanistan.
I also think it’s incredibly important to understand that the suppression of these rights in Afghanistan is not only setting women back, but all Afghans, the country as a whole, including the Afghan economy. So it’s just not in the basic self-interest of anyone in Afghanistan, including the Taliban. When women are excluded from the workforce, society loses talent. It loses the productivity of half its population.
Today, women could contribute $1 billion to the Afghan economy if only they were allowed to. They could provide lifelines to families affected by poverty; You could help create more stable and resilient communities at a time when these are sorely needed in Afghanistan.
In short, equality and economic opportunity do indeed go hand in hand. And there are prerequisites for sustainable peace and security. So that’s one of the reasons the United States will continue to support equal rights and opportunities for Afghan women and girls.
One way of doing this is by providing direct assistance to vulnerable Afghans. In the last year alone, we donated more than $770 million to humanitarian organizations. In addition, USAID recently announced an additional $30 million in development aid for Afghan women and girls.
We’ve also teamed up with Switzerland and Afghan economic experts to launch the Afghan Fund, something you’ve seen and probably read about in the past few days. This will help protect the Reserve Bank of Afghanistan’s US$3.5 billion in reserves and target disbursements to support the country’s economic stability.
For everything we do with humanitarian aid, much as it is needed, it is necessary but not enough. And contributing to the creation of basic economic stability is actually essential to ensure that Afghans do not suffer even more from the very difficult circumstances in which they live.
We also support Afghan women and girls through our diplomacy. We are organizing with our allies and partners, including in the Muslim world, to present a united front and urge the Taliban to respect women’s rights. And we are amplifying the voices of Afghan women in international institutions – including here at the United Nations.
Today, in partnership with Boston University, we are announcing our latest initiative: the Alliance for Afghan Women’s Economic Resilience. Let me say a few words about that before handing it over to our panel.
This is a public-private partnership that will help improve access to education and training, expand employment opportunities and support women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Well, I won’t sugarcoat it: given the severe restrictions imposed by the Taliban, this will be difficult, but we are committed to making this support available to women in Afghanistan safely.
The Alliance builds on proven models we’ve experienced elsewhere and reflects the resources, innovation, speed and expertise we can leverage when bringing together private companies, academic institutions, NGOs and governments.
For example, Allianz will partner with Pod, an American technology company, to launch the Million Women Mentors initiative for Afghan women and girls. Mentors from Deloitte will support Pod in offering remote careers counseling to the first 2,000 of those million Afghan women. I’ve seen this work in other places and it’s amazing what you can achieve even by doing things remotely. Let’s start with that.
The alliance is hosted by Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies. It will provide personnel, research, technical assistance and programmatic support to help the Alliance operate and thrive.
Boston University, Deloitte, Pod, thank you for being a part of this crucial effort.
To others who see an opportunity to contribute to this alliance, whether from the public or private sector, two words: join us. We are happy to work with you on behalf of Afghan women.
So there is still a lot to say. I really want to leave it now to a few remarkable people who offer their experience, expertise and the opportunity to share it with you. But in closing, let me just thank everyone in this room who continues to work for the future of Afghanistan and the future of its women and girls. The United States remains invested and we will continue to work on it every day.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)