SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good morning, everyone. And Kat, thank you so much for not only your good words today – actually, your incredibly powerful words today, which I strongly endorse; in fact, I’m tempted to just drop the microphone and say “what she said” – (laughter) – but for your leadership every day around the world, as well as in Afghanistan.
And I also just want to recognize a few really exceptional colleagues who are joining us today, starting with Don Lu, our Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. Next to him, Tom West, our Special Representative for Afghanistan, and someone I think known to many of you, Rina Amiri, our Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights.
The three of them together, along with Kat, and along with so many other colleagues, are making sure every single day that Afghanistan writ large and women and girls in particular remain at the heart of our focus and our determination. And I really want to thank Rina in particular for incredibly dedicated advocacy for the people of Afghanistan. We’re really lucky to have you on our team. You are working tirelessly to stand up for Afghan women and girls, their rights, and all at-risk Afghans. Thank you, Rina.
And I’m really grateful to our partners from civil society and the private sector, including our very exceptional panelists. I had a chance to speak to them briefly a few minutes ago.
We’re all here for a particular purpose today, and that is to launch a new initiative: The Alliance for Afghan Women’s Economic Resilience. More to say about that in just a few minutes.
But Your Highness, I’m also grateful to you for taking part today, for leading this discussion. Thank you for your engagement not just today, but again, every day. It’s greatly appreciated.
So as you heard Kat describe, we are meeting at a deeply challenging time for Afghan women and girls. That is no secret to anyone in this room. Since taking power, the Taliban have severely restricted women’s rights in Afghanistan, turning back two decades of progress that Afghan women themselves built with the support of the international community.
The Taliban have denied women freedom of movement. They’ve banned girls from secondary school classrooms. They’ve prohibited women in the workplace, women who last year – again, as Kat said – were managing businesses, running schools, serving in government. Many women have had to flee for safety; they face extraordinary challenges in rebuilding their lives in new countries.
Women, no matter where they live, should have equal rights in every facet 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, to express themselves, to choose their own paths.
This should be, in the year 2022, self-evident to everyone on this planet. But of course, it’s not, and we have to fight for it. We have to struggle for it every single day.
But particularly here this week at the United Nations, where the world comes together at High-Level Week, these rights were enshrined in the preamble of the United Nations Charter. This is the founding document of international relations. It’s the founding document that describes not Western-created rights, not something invented here or in any particular country, but universal rights to which everyone is subscribing, or is at least supposed to subscribe. The charter affirms the faith of all peoples of the United Nations, “in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women.” And that is a direct quote from the charter.
So no more better time than today, than this week, to reaffirm those rights, to reaffirm a common understanding and a common commitment to those rights, and no more important a place to do it than with regard to Afghanistan.
It’s also, I think, incredibly important to understand that the repression of these rights in Afghanistan is not only setting back women, but all Afghans, the country as a whole, including Afghanistan’s economy. So it’s simply not in the basic self-interest of anyone in Afghanistan, including the Taliban. When women are cut out of the workforce, society loses talent. It loses productivity from half of its population.
Today, women could contribute $1 billion to Afghanistan’s economy if they were simply allowed to. They could provide lifelines for families facing poverty; they could help create more stable, more resilient communities at a time when those are desperately needed in Afghanistan.
In short, equality and economic opportunity actually go hand in hand. And there are prerequisites for sustainable peace and sustainable security. So that’s one reason the United States will continue supporting equality and opportunity for Afghan women and girls.
So one way we’re doing this is by providing direct assistance to at-risk Afghans. Just over the last year, we’ve contributed more than $770 million to humanitarian organizations. In addition, USAID recently announced another $30 million in development assistance for Afghan women and girls.
We’ve also partnered with Switzerland and Afghan economic experts to launch the Afghan Fund, something you’ve seen and probably read about in recent days. This is going to help protect and make targeted disbursements of $3.5 billion in Afghan Central Bank reserves to support the country’s economic stability.
For all that we’re doing with the humanitarian assistance, as desperately needed as that is – it’s necessary, but it’s not enough. And helping to create basic economic stability is actually vital to making sure that Afghans do not suffer even more in the very difficult circumstances that they’re living.
We’re also supporting Afghan women and girls through our diplomacy. We’re 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’re amplifying Afghan women’s voices in international institutions – including here at the United Nations.
Today, in partnership with Boston University, we are announcing our newest initiative: the Alliance for Afghan Women’s Economic Resilience. Let me just say a few words about that before turning it over to our panel.
This is a public-private partnership that will help improve access to education and training, expand job opportunity, support women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan as well as in other countries. Now, I don’t want to sugarcoat it: This is going to be hard, given the severe restraints imposed by the Taliban, but we are determined to safely deliver this support to women in Afghanistan.
The alliance builds on proven models, something we’ve had experience with in other places, and it reflects the resources, the innovation, the speed and expertise that we can harness when we bring together private enterprise, academic institutions, NGOs, and governments.
So for example, in partnership with Pod – this is an American technology company – the alliance will launch the Million Women Mentors Initiative for Afghan Women and Girls. Mentors from Deloitte will help Pod offer remote career guidance to the first 2,000 of these million Afghan women. I have seen this work in other places, and it is remarkable what you can achieve even doing things at a distance. So we’re going to get off to a start with this.
Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies will host the alliance. It will provide staffing, research, technical assistance, and programmatic support to help the alliance run and help it thrive.
Boston University, Deloitte, Pod, thank you for being part of this crucial effort.
To others who see a way to contribute to this alliance, whether it’s from the public sector, the private sector, two words: Join us. We’re eager to work with you on behalf of Afghan women.
So there’s a lot more that could be said. I really want to leave it now to some remarkable people who offer their experience, their expertise, and an opportunity to share it with you. But let me simply conclude by saying thank you to everyone in this room who remains invested in the future of Afghanistan and the future of its women and girls. The United States remains invested, and we will continue to work this every single day.
Thank you so much. (Applause.)