As prepared for delivery
We in the U.S. Government have enormous respect and gratitude for the work that Women for Afghan Women does every day to raise awareness on the issues and challenges facing Afghan women and girls, and for all that you do to protect them from the violence that is all around them. I congratulate you on your accomplishments and for your commitment and perseverance over the last decade to address violence against women not just in Afghanistan, but closer to home as well.
Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic, and we must do all we can to work to combat it and to end it. It is not a private matter or a cultural issue. It is a crime wherever it is committed. It is a violation of human rights, it is a public health issue, it hinders productivity and it is a matter of law enforcement. Perpetrators need to be prosecuted for acts of violence against women and girls.
Women for Afghan Women is a shining example of commitment. You are providing shelter and counseling for female victims of violence and helping to prevent violence by working within the Afghan community. I have had the privilege to see your work firsthand in Afghanistan, to meet with survivors and hear what you have done to save lives, to visit a safe house where I met a child victim I shall never forget – adorned in a bright yellow dress and cared for with great compassion, yet a survivor of unspeakable violence. And, of course, one never forgets Esther and the leadership, drive, passion and commitment she brings to this cause. This is hard work and both Esther and executive director, Manizha Naderi, are unflagging in their efforts.
We know that violence against women is a world-wide problem. One in three women somewhere in the world will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime; in some countries, this is true for as high as 70 percent of women. It affects girls and women at every point in their lives. It cuts across ethnicity, race, class, age, religion, education level, and international borders.
We take a multi-pronged approach to addressing gender-based violence. We are focused on the protection of women, strengthening deterrents to such senseless acts, and prosecuting perpetrators in order to address impunity. In Afghanistan we are supporting efforts in all of these areas and working in partnership with Women for Afghan Women. We are also supporting efforts to advance Afghan women’s economic opportunities and their political participation. We know that any potential for peace to be realized and sustained will be subverted if women are marginalized or silenced.
And Afghan women cannot be silenced, for they are resilient, dedicated, and persevering leaders. Every time I travel to Afghanistan, I am struck by the bravery of the amazing women leaders I meet: they are members of Parliament, activists, policewomen, businesswomen, judges, lawyers, midwives. I’ll never forget the words of an Afghan woman who once said to me, “Don’t think of us as victims. See us as the leaders we are.”
So thank you, Women for Afghan Women. Thank you, Esther. Thank you to all those who support your efforts: for helping the women of Afghanistan move from unimaginable pain to realizing the power that is within them; helping them to gradually leverage their own inherent potential in becoming the leaders that they truly are. And thank you for your collaboration and partnership as together we continue these critical efforts.