SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, everyone.
First, let me say it is always a particular pleasure to visit our neighbors at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Lise, thank you so much for hosting us. It’s wonderful to be here.
And Rina, to you, to our special envoy, to the team working with you, to the many others who are involved with today’s launch, I am grateful for all you’ve done to bring all of us together today, but for the work that’s being done every day that I’ll have a chance to talk about over the next few minutes. But to our colleagues across the entire U.S. Government, civil society, thank you as well for supporting equality, supporting opportunity, for women and girls across Afghanistan.
And a special thanks to the extraordinary panelists that we’ve had today. I’m really looking forward to getting a chance to speak with you directly shortly. But as you all know, they’ve served in Afghanistan in different ways, in different roles, but there is one thread that runs throughout their public service. Each has helped strengthen the rights of Afghan women and girls, as well as members of other vulnerable groups, for decades.
Today, they represent many others across Afghanistan and around the world who have dedicated their lives to this deeply vital and deeply honorable mission.
As the panelists made clear, we meet at a difficult time for Afghan women and girls.
Since the Taliban took over a year ago, they’ve reversed a great deal of the openness and progress that had been made over the previous decades. They’ve silenced civil society and journalists. In March, they banned independent international media like Voice of America and BBC from airing in Afghanistan. They continue to intimidate and censor Afghan media outlets. They stifled the free practice of religion for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Perhaps most notably, they failed to respect the human rights of women and girls. Instead, under the Taliban, women and girls have largely been erased from public life. As a report released yesterday by Amnesty International showed, the Taliban have systematically restricted women and girl’s rights to free movement, decimated the system supporting domestic violence victims, and contributed to surging rates of child, early, and forced marriage.
The Taliban’s decision to ban girls from attending secondary schools, a decision that happened while some girls were literally walking to school and others were already sitting at their desks, was a reversal of commitments they made to the Afghan people and to the world. For 314 days and counting, the girls of Afghanistan have sat at home while their brothers and cousins have been receiving educations. It’s a terrible, terrible waste.
It’s especially difficult to accept because we all remember how different it was not so very long ago. Prior to the Taliban’s takeover, thousands of women across Afghanistan held public office from the village level right up to the national level. Women entered professions previously closed to them. They started businesses. They were doctors, nurses, scientists, artists. And women didn’t just study in schools across Afghanistan; they ran them.
These gains weren’t felt only by women and girls. As we’ve seen again and again throughout history from country to country, when equality and opportunity increase for one group of people, they tend to increase for other groups as well. As the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan were strengthened, we saw members of various ethnic and religious communities – Hazaras, Hindus, Sikhs, Sufis – take more prominent roles in Afghan public life. Afghans with disabilities did as well. The LGBTQI+ community found ways to build a community. So the changes in Afghanistan during the past year have been painful for so many.
We continue to urge the Taliban to reverse their decision on girls’ education, to make good on their commitment to the Afghan people, to allow girls to learn. The evidence is overwhelming. Investing in girls’ education, women’s political inclusion, it leads to stronger economies. It leads to healthier individuals and families. It leads to more stable, more resilient societies. These are the things that people of Afghanistan want for their futures. That’s why so many members of Afghan society – men and women, rural and urban dwellers, religious scholars, people across religions and cultural backgrounds – have all, all called for the Taliban to let women and girls go to school again.
The United States will continue to amplify these voices and do all that we can to support progress for Afghan women, girls, and other at-risk populations.
Earlier this year, we joined partners across the international community – including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Qatar, Turkey, Pakistan, the European Union, and others – urging the Taliban to let girls go back to school.
Last month, we supported a Human Rights Council urgent debate that allowed us to hear directly from Afghan women leaders. We co-sponsored a resolution that will allow us to hear from them again this coming September. And as we help enable their voices to be heard, others will hear them as well.
Over the past year, we’ve continued our partnerships with Afghan civil society groups working on issues of equality, inclusion, opportunity for women, religious and ethnic communities, and other at-risk populations.
And critically, with today’s launch of the U.S.-Afghan Consultative Mechanism, we are taking these relationships to the next level. That’s why I’m so pleased about today.
It’s going to make it easier for Afghan civil society groups to communicate and collaborate with American policymakers across a whole range of shared priorities – from supporting income-generating activities for Afghan women, to strategizing ways to help Afghan human rights monitors safely document abuses, to devising new methods to promote religious freedom.
What we want to do is to make our partnerships with Afghan civil society more effective, more rigorous, more productive, more purposeful. And that’s what this new initiative is all about.
So let me simply share my profound appreciation for our American civil society partners, who do critical work to support women leaders and civil society organizations in Afghanistan, and for our Afghan partners for sharing your perspectives, for sharing your recommendations.
What’s remarkable to me and I think to so many of us is how, even in the face of threats, violence, intimidation, the women and girls of Afghanistan – and other vulnerable, targeted people – have simply refused to back down. These groups have never stopped believing in a brighter future for their country. They are determined to do all they can to make that future real.
The women who have taken to the streets to protest for their rights are one such group.
In December, when members of the Afghan National Security Forces were targeted despite the Taliban’s supposed amnesty, women protested. In January, when female public servants were dismissed from their jobs, women protested. In March, when the Taliban instituted an edict directing women to cover their faces in public and to only leave home when, quote, “necessary,” women protested.
Many of them have said they will never, never stop raising their voices.
The work we’ve done here today will ensure that we – and people around the world – continue to hear them, continue to listen to them, as we work together for a more stable, peaceful, prosperous, and free future for Afghanistan and for every Afghan man and woman.
Thank you very much. Thank you all for joining us today. (Applause.)