Over the last eleven years Hillary Rodham Clinton as First Lady, then as Senator, then as Secretary of State, has been a voice for the women of Afghanistan – recognizing that they are essential to creating a better future for your country. During this period, I have met with countless courageous and inspirational Afghan women leaders from all walks of life. Afghan women have made enormous strides. In 2001, life expectancy for women in Afghanistan was just 44 years of age. Now it is 62 years. Back then, almost no girls went to school. Today, nearly 120,000 Afghan girls have graduated from high school, 15,000 are enrolled in universities, and nearly 500 women are on university faculties. Afghan women hold office at the national, provincial, and local levels. They serve on the High Peace Council and in provincial peace councils. And of most importance to note on this occasion – they are opening and running businesses of all kinds. They are also vital to the agriculture sector. It is essential to continue to expand on these achievements and continue to grow progress no matter what the obstacles are that one confronts each day. That’s why institutions, such as the International Center for Afghan Women’s Economic Development, are so critical to building the capacity of Afghan women so that they may meaningfully participate and contribute economically to their country.
One of the key roles of the Center will be to lead public and private sector efforts to advance the role of women – both nationally and internationally – in Afghanistan’s economic growth efforts. It will be the hub for Afghan businesswomen, female entrepreneurs and associations to better coordinate and become stronger networks. It will also provide programs to train and educate women business leaders and burgeoning female entrepreneurs. Most importantly, it will be Afghan led so that Afghan businesswomen are working together and exchanging ideas with other Afghan businesswomen. This is essential to the long-term success of the Center and it is essential for the economic progress and stability of Afghanistan.
There is a wealth of data today that shows the importance of growing small and medium sized enterprises in order to grow economies – they are accelerators to grow GDPs.
All of us – whether we work in government or civil society or the private sector – must work together to build on the successes that have been made and continue our support for Afghan women. The realization of sustainable economic development in Afghanistan will depend on whether women, who are the vital drivers of economic growth around the world, are able to live up to their full potential.
To all the businesswomen of Afghanistan: know that we stand by you as you work together to build a stable economic future in Afghanistan and a brighter future for generations of young women to come.