Bush Calls Women's Rights and Liberty "Inseparable"
"The advance of women's rights and the advance of liberty are ultimately
inseparable," President Bush told a group of 250 women from around the world who
gathered at the White House March 12 to celebrate International Women's Day,
marked four days earlier.
The president described support of liberty and human rights as the cornerstone
of American foreign policy: "The policy of the American government is to stand
for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity -- the rule of law, the limits
on the power of the state, free speech, freedom of worship, equal justice,
respect for women, religious and ethnic tolerance, and protections for private
property," he said.
The advance of freedom in the greater Middle East has given new rights and new
hopes to women there, he said, and the women leaders of Afghanistan and Iraq
have displayed "incredible courage."
The president also discussed his emergency plan for AIDS relief, a $15 billion
commitment over five years; the economic empowerment of women through a $155
million distribution by the U.S. government of micro-loans over five years; and
the U.S. government's $75 million commitment to combat the worldwide trafficking
in human beings.
First lady Laura Bush, who co-hosted the event with the president, said "the
women of Afghanistan are writing a new chapter in their history. Afghan women
who were once virtual prisoners in their homes, unable to go to school or to
work, are helping rebuild their country. Several women helped draft and review
the country's new constitution, which reserves seats in parliament for women. In
more than 2,000 villages, women lead local councils. And this year, all Afghan
women will have the opportunity to vote in the presidential election."
She noted that some 5 million Afghan children will begin a new school year soon,
including 2 million girls who were prohibited from education three years ago.
The United States will reestablish the American school in Kabul for Afghan
children and for children of international families in the fall, she said, and a
new teacher-training institute will be developed to help prepare more women for
teaching jobs in Afghan schools.
"Earlier this week millions of women celebrated International Women's Day and
the many accomplishments of women worldwide," Mrs. Bush noted. "As they gathered
they honored generations of mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers who
sacrificed so that all of us could live better lives," she said."
Following is the transcript of the remarks by the first lady
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
March 12, 2004
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY AND THE PRESIDENT ON EFFORTS TO GLOBALLY PROMOTE
WOMEN'S HUMAN RIGHTS
The East Room
2:34 P.M. EST
MRS. BUSH: Welcome to the White House. Thank you all very much for coming
today; I'm so glad you're here. And a special thanks to Dr. Khuzai, Ambassador
Ssempala, Sharon Cohn, and Mrs. Jawad. Thank you all for joining us.
The Ambassador from Afghanistan and Mrs. Jawad were here recently to see the
film, "Osama." If you haven't seen it yet, I hope you'll have a chance to see
it; I want to encourage you to see it. It's the story of a young Afghan girl who
pretends to be a boy so she can go to work and support her mother. And it's a
sobering reminder of what life was like under the Taliban. And it's a reminder
of why all of us are committed to helping all women gain equal rights.
President Bush and I often like to tell stories about this room that we're in.
Many historic happenings, of course, have happened here in this room, and also
some amusing ones. When President Adams and his wife, Abigail, lived here, there
was no glass in the windows, and this drafty room provided the perfect place for
the Adams to hang their laundry.
(Laughter.) Although, Abigail Adams, like many women during her time -- and
since, I might add -- handled the domestic duties, she believed that women
should have an active role in developing our young nation.
As her husband helped to establish our democracy, she wrote to him and said, "In
the new code of laws, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more
generous and favorable to them than your ancestors." Abigail Adams is one of the
many women who helped establish the vitality of our nation. Others, like
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, led the determined struggle to gain
suffrage for women. And, today, their actions continue to inspire women around
Earlier this week, millions of women celebrated International Women's Day and
the many accomplishments of women worldwide. As they gathered, they honored
generations of mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers who sacrificed so
that all of us can live better lives.
The struggle for women's rights is a story of ordinary women doing extraordinary
things. And today, the women of Afghanistan are writing a new chapter in their
history. Afghan women who were once virtual prisoners in their homes, unable to
go to school or to work, are helping rebuild their country. Several women helped
draft and review the country's new constitution, which reserves seats in
parliament for women. In more than 2000 villages, women lead local councils. And
this year, all Afghan women will have the opportunity to vote in the
Women are registering to vote in greater numbers, even though they're threatened
by terrorists as they try to register. They're bravely defying these threats,
walking for miles to register and holding their voter cards like passports to
Many women are working again and some are even running their own businesses
through micro-enterprise programs. In Herat, female credit officers now have
more clients than their male counterparts. Many women are learning to read and
write, and they're becoming the greatest advocates for their daughters' right to
In two weeks, nearly 5 million Afghan children, including more than 2 million
girls, will begin a new school year. Just three years ago, 90 percent of girls
were forbidden to go to school. Today, at the Sultana Razia School, girls talk
about their future and about rebuilding their country. One little girl said, "I
want to become a lawyer because I want to bring justice and freedom to
Afghanistan, especially for women."
I'm proud to be a part of America's efforts to advance the rights of Afghan
women and girls. Beginning this fall, the United States will reestablish the
American school in Kabul for Afghan children and for children of international
families. I'm also working with our government and the private sector to develop
a teacher training institute that will help prepare more women teachers for
Afghan schools. The women of Afghanistan are gaining greater rights, and their
solidarity is an inspiration for women worldwide, especially to the women of
Earlier this week, during the signing of Iraq's interim constitution, Iraqi
women marched together and many spoke publicly after decades of oppression. In
al-Fardous Square, more then 200 women marched for greater rights, chanting,
"Yes for equality, yes, for freedom." They were supported and applauded by a
group of Iraqi men. One man smiled and said that, "This is the first time women
have demonstrated freely in Iraq."
Iraqi women are working with the United States State Department to develop
democracy programs that educate women about their rights. Women's self-help and
vocational centers are springing up across Iraq, from Karbala to Kirkuk. Our
commitment to the women of Iraq is part of a broader effort to support women
across the Middle East, from girls' literacy programs in Yemen, to micro-credit
initiatives for women entrepreneurs in Jordan, to legal workshops in Bahrain.
We're making progress toward greater rights for women in the Middle East and
around the world. But still, too many women face violence and prejudice. Many
continue to live in fear, imprisoned in their homes. And in brothels, young
girls are held against their will and used as sex slaves.
For a stable world, we must dedicate ourselves to protecting women's rights in
all countries. Farahnaz Nazir, founder of the Afghanistan Women's Association,
said, "Society is like a bird. It has two wings. And a bird cannot fly if one
wing is broken." Without women, the goals of democracy and peace cannot be
achieved. Women's rights are human rights, and the work of advancing human
rights is the responsibility of all humanity.
President Bush is firmly committed to the empowerment in education and health of
women around the world. The President knows that women are vital to democracy
and important for the development of all countries. And he has three very strong
women at home who won't let him forget it. (Laughter and applause.)
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome my husband, President George Bush.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. It takes me 45 seconds to walk to work,
and sometimes I get introduced by my wife. (Laughter.) It's a heck of a job.
Laura is -- you know, one of the interesting moments in our family came when she
gave a radio address. She used the President's time to give a radio address, to
speak to the women of Afghanistan. And it made a big difference in people's
lives. And it was from that moment forward that she, personally, has dedicated
time to make sure that people who have been enslaved are free, particularly
women. And I'm proud of Laura's leadership. (Applause.)
In the last two-and-a-half years, we have seen remarkable and hopeful
development in world history. Just think about it: More than 50 million
men, women and children have been liberated from two of the most brutal
tyrannies on earth -- 50 million people are free. All these people are now
learning the blessings of freedom.
And for 25 million women and girls, liberation has a special significance. Some
of these girls are attending school for the first time. It's hard for people in
America to imagine. A lot of young girls now get to go to school. Some of the
women are preparing to vote in free elections for the very first time.
The public whippings by Taliban officials have ended. The systematic use of rape
by Saddam's regime to dishonor families has ended. He sits in the prison cell.
The advance of freedom in the greater Middle East has given new rights and new
hopes to women. And America will do its part to continue the spread of liberty.
I want to thank a man who is working hard to continue the spread of liberty, and
that's the Secretary of State, Colin Powell. (Applause.) I appreciate three
members of my Cabinet who are here: Secretary Gayle Norton, Secretary Ann
Veneman, and Secretary Elaine Chao. I put together, in all due humility, the
greatest Cabinet ever. (Laughter and applause.) And one of the reasons why is
these three ladies have agreed to serve.
(Applause.) The President has got to get pretty good advice -- I mean, really
good advice, frankly, from people other than his wife. (Laughter.) I get great
foreign policy advice from Condoleezza Rice, who is with us today. (Applause.)
I want to thank other members of my administration who are here for this very
important occasion to end what has been a very important dialogue. Deputy
Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is with us; Andrew Natsios, who runs USAID;
Paula Dobriansky, of the Department of State. I want to thank you for going to
Afghanistan recently with Joyce Rumsfeld, Secretary Rumsfeld's better half, who
also went to Afghanistan recently to spread the word that America will stay the
course; that when we say something we mean it and that we say we're going to --
I just named a distinguished American to be a U.S. delegate to the U.N.
Commission on the Status of Women, my sister, Dorothy. Thank you for being here,
Doro. (Applause.) And I took the recommendation of Vice President Cheney for
another member of the same delegation. He suggested that America would be well
served by his eldest daughter, Liz. And he's right. Good to see you, Liz.
I want to thank Rend Al-Rahim, who is with us today. Rend, thank you for coming.
She's the senior Iraqi representative to the United States. That is a forerunner
to ambassadorial status, I guess. Certainly I'm not speaking for what is going
to be the sovereign government of Iraq. She's good at what she does, I'm telling
There's a lot of ambassadors who are here. I want to thank you all for coming.
It's good to see you. I appreciate you taking time to be here. This is an
important conference. The message of the United States, about freedom and
liberty in the Middle East, is a serious message. And I thank the governments
for being here to listen and to help us advance this vital cause for what's good
for the world. And so thanks for coming. There's a lot of countries represented
here, particularly Middle Eastern countries.
As I told you, Joyce went to -- and Paula went to Afghanistan. There are other
members of the U.S. Afghan Women's Council that went to Kabul. I want to thank
you all for going. I hear it's -- one of the travelers, Karen Hughes, reported
back, and Margaret did, as well -- Margaret Spellings, who is my Domestic Policy
Advisor. They said it's unbelievable what's taking place there. The country is
transitioning from despair to hope. And it's easy to see now. It's changing, and
changing for the better. The people of Afghanistan have just got to know that
we'll stand with them for however long it takes to be free.
I appreciate the Iraqi women who attended the Commission on the Status of Women
in New York this week. I want to thank you all for coming. I appreciate you
I want to thank my friend, Dr. Raja Khuzai, who's with us today. This is the
third time we have met. The first time we met, she walked into the Oval Office
-- let's see, was it the first time? It was the first time. The door opened up.
She said, "My liberator," and burst out in tears --
(laughter) -- and so did I. (Applause.)
Dr. Khuzai also was there to have Thanksgiving dinner with our troops. And it
turned out to be me, as well. Of course, I didn't tell her I was coming.
(Laughter.) But I appreciate that, and now she's here again. I want to thank
you, Doctor, for your hard work on the writing of the basic law for your people.
You have stood fast, you have stood strong. Like me, you've got liberty etched
in your heart, and you're not going to yield. And you are doing a great job and
we're proud to have you back. Thanks for coming. (Applause.)
Ambassador Ssempala is with us, as well, from Uganda. It's great to see you
again, Ambassador. Thanks. She made our trip to Uganda so special that time. She
paved the way for what was a special trip. I'm going to talk a little bit about
HIV/AIDS. I want to thank you and your country's leadership in that important
Shamim Jawad is with us -- Ambassador Said Jawad's better half. I want to thank
you very much for being here, Shamim. Thanks for coming. I appreciate your
The Director of the Anti-Trafficking Operations for International Justice
Mission is Sharon Cohn. She's with us. Let me tell what that means: that means
she's working to end sex slavery. She is a noble soul who cares deeply about the
plight of every woman. And I'm honored that you're up here, Sharon. I want thank
you very much for your strong commitment. This government stands with you, and
our country stands with you. We abhor -- we abhor -- the practice of sex
slavery, and we will do all we can to help you. (Applause.)
Support for human rights is the cornerstone of American foreign policy. As a
matter of national conviction, we believe that every person in every culture is
meant by God to live in freedom. As a matter of national interest, we know that
the spread of liberty and hope is essential to the defeat of despair and
bitterness and terror. The policy of the American government is to stand for the
non-negotiable demands of human dignity -- the rule of law, the limits on the
power of the state, free speech, freedom of worship, equal justice, respect for
women, religious and ethnic tolerance, and protections for private property.
That is what we believe and we're not going to change.
We have transformed this belief in human rights into action. Last year, our
government devoted nearly $75 million to combat the worldwide trafficking in
human beings. It's a brutal trade, inhumane trade, by sick people that targets
many women and girls. I spoke out against this practice at the United Nations. I
called upon the world to join us. This country is determined to fight and end
this modern form of slavery.
HIV/AIDS has orphaned millions of children worldwide. In some African countries,
nearly 60 percent of adults carrying the virus are women. In 2002, we created
the Mother and Child HIV Prevention Initiative to prevent viral transmission of
the virus between generations. It's an important initiative by this government,
but it wasn't enough.
Last year, I announced an emergency plan for AIDS relief, a $15 billion
commitment over five years to fight this deadly disease. This country is
determined to turn the tide against this modern plague. When we see disease and
suffering, we will not turn our back.
The economic empowerment of women is one effective way to improve lives and to
protect rights. Each year for the past five years, the United States government
has provided an average of $155 million in small loans, micro-loans. About 70
percent of those benefit women. It turns out the world is learning what we know
in America: The best entrepreneurs in the country are women. In America, most
new small businesses are started by women. With the right help, that will be the
case around the world, as well.
We're determined to help women to find the independence and dignity that comes
from ownership. These are necessary responses to urgent problems. Yet, in the
end, the rights of women and all human beings can be assured only within the
framework of freedom and democracy. If people aren't free, it is likely that
women will be suppressed.
Human rights are defined by a constitution; they're defended by an impartial
rule of law; they're secured in a pluralistic society. The advance of women's
rights and the advance of liberty are ultimately inseparable. America stands
with the world's oppressed peoples. We've got to speak clearly for freedom, and
we will, in places like Cuba or North Korea or Zimbabwe or Burma.
We stand with courageous reformers. Aung San Suu Kyi is a courageous reformer
and a remarkable women who remains under house arrest for her efforts to bring
democracy to her nation. Earlier today, the Libyan government released Fathi
Jahmi. She's a local government official who was imprisoned in 2002 for
advocating free speech and democracy. It's an encouraging step toward reform in
Libya. You probably have heard, Libya is beginning to change her attitude about
a lot of things. We hope that more such steps will follow in Libya, and around
The advance of freedom cannot be held back forever. And America is working to
hasten the day when freedom comes to every single nation. We understand a free
world is more likely to be a peaceful world.
When Iran's Shirin Ebadi accepted the Nobel for peace -- Nobel Prize for Peace
last year, here's what she said: "If the 21st century wishes to free itself from
the cycle of violence and acts of terror and war, and avoid repetition of the
experience of the 20th century, there is no other way except by understanding
and putting into practice every human right for all mankind, irrespective of
race and gender, faith, nationality, or social status."
That's a powerful statement coming from Iran. No wonder she won the
Nobel Prize. She's a proud Iranian. She is a devout Muslim. She
believes that democracy is consistent with Islamic teachings. And we share in
this belief. That's what we believe in America. A religion that demands
individual moral accountability and encourages the encounter of the individual
with God is fully compatible with the rights and responsibilities of
self-government. Promotion of democracy in the greater Middle East is important.
It's a priority of ours. And it will be a long and difficult road. But we're on
Three years ago, the nation of Afghanistan was the primary training ground for
al Qaeda. You heard Laura talk about the movie, "Osama." See it. It'll help
enrich the words I'm about to say: The Taliban were incredibly barbaric. It's
hard for the American mind to understand "barbaric." Watch the movie. Women were
forbidden from appearing in public unescorted. That's barbaric. Women were
prohibited from holding jobs. It's impossible for young girls to get an
education. That's barbaric. It's not right.
Today, the Taliban regime is gone, thank goodness. Girls are back in class. The
amazing accomplishment, though, is that Afghanistan has a new constitution that
guarantees full participation by women. The constitution is a milestone in
Afghanistan's history. It's really a milestone in world history, when you think
about. All Afghan citizens, regardless of gender, now have equal rights before
The new lower house of parliament will guarantee places for women. Women voters
in Afghanistan, as Laura said, are registering at a faster rate than men for the
June election. What's new? (Laughter.) Afghanistan still has challenges ahead,
no doubt about it. But now the women of that country, instead of living in
silence and fear, are a part of the future of the country. They're a part of a
Iraq has a different history, and yet a different set of challenges. Only one
year ago -- only one year after being liberated from an incredibly ruthless
person and a ruthless regime, Iraqi women are playing an essential part in
rebuilding the nation. They're part of the future of the country.
Every woman in Iraq is better off because the rape rooms and torture chambers of
Saddam Hussein are forever closed. He is a barbaric person. He violated people
in such a brutal way that some never thought that the spirit of Iraq could arise
again. We never felt that way here in this administration. We felt that people
innately love freedom and if just given a chance, if given an opportunity, they
will rise to the challenge.
Three women now serve on the Iraqi Governing Council -- you just heard me praise
one. The historic document that was written recently guarantees the basic rights
of all Iraqis, men and women, including freedoms of worship, expression and
association. The document protects unions and political parties and outlaws
discrimination based on gender, ethnic class and religion. It's an amazing
document that's been written.
Iraqi women are already using their new political powers to guard against
extremism and intolerance in any form, whether it be religious or secular. The
women leaders of Afghanistan and Iraq have shown incredible courage. When you
think about what life was like months ago for many women, the fact that they
have risen up is a testament to their souls, to their very being, their bravery.
Some have paid for their new freedoms with their lives but, in so doing, their
sons and daughters will be forever grateful. These leaders have sent a message
throughout the Middle East and throughout the world: every man and women in
every culture was born to live in freedom.
The momentum of liberty is building in the Middle East. Just think about what's
taken place recently. In 2002, Bahrain elected its own parliament for the first
time in nearly three decades. Liberty is marching. Oman has extended the vote to
all adult citizens. On Monday, the Sultan appointed the nation's first female
cabinet minister. We're making progress on the road to freedom. Qatar has a new
constitution. Yemen has a multiparty political system. Kuwait has a directly
elected national assembly. Jordan held historic elections last summer. Times are
America is taking the side of those reformers who are committed to democratic
change. It is our calling to do so. It is our duty to do so. I proposed doubling
the budget for the National Endowment for Democracy to $80 million. We will
focus its new work on bringing free elections and free markets and free speech
and free labor unions to the Middle East.
By radio and television, we're broadcasting the message of tolerance and truth
in Arabic and Persian to tens of millions of people. And our Middle East
Partnership Initiative supports economic and political and educational reform
throughout the region. We're building women's centers in Afghanistan and Iraq
that will offer job training and provide loans for small businesses and teach
women about their rights as citizens and human beings. We're active. We're
strong in the pursuit of freedom. We just don't talk a good game in America, we
In Afghanistan, the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council is developing projects to
improve the education of women, and to train the leaders of tomorrow. You heard
Laura talk about her deep desire to help train women to become teachers, not
only in the cities, but in the rural parts of Afghanistan. We'll succeed. We'll
follow through on that initiative. We're pursuing a forward strategy of freedom
-- that's how I like to describe it, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle
East. And I believe there's no doubt that if America stays the course and we
call upon others to stay the course, liberty will arrive and the world will be
The momentum of freedom in the Middle East is beginning to benefit women. That's
what's important for this conference. A free society is a society in which women
I want to remind you of what King Mohammed of Morocco said when he proposed a
series of laws to protect women and their families. It's a remarkable statement.
It's like he's put the stake in the ground for women's rights.
He said, "How can society achieve progress while women, who represent half the
nation, see their rights violated and suffer as a result of injustice and
violence and marginalization, notwithstanding the dignity and justice granted to
them by our glorious religion." It's a strong statement of freedom. He's right.
America stands with His Majesty and others who share that basic belief. The
future of Muslim nations will be better off for all with the full participation
These are extraordinary times, historic times. We've seen the fall of brutal
tyrants. We're seeing the rise of democracy in the Middle East. We're seeing
women take their rightful place in societies that were once incredibly
oppressive and closed. We're seeing the power and appeal of liberty in every
single culture. And we're proud once again -- this nation is proud -- to advance
the cause of human rights and human freedom.
I want to thank you all for serving the cause. The cause is just, the cause is
right, and the cause is good. May God bless. (Applause.)
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S.
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