There's plenty of proof that investments in women and girls reap many positive returns for our society -- both locally and globally. When governments, businesses and communities invest in women -- and when they work to eliminate inequalities -- we're all less likely to be plagued by poverty.
At the start of the 21st century, women in my country, Afghanistan, were excluded from almost all aspects of public life -- including education, the workforce and any participation in public policy or voting. Things have changed ... a lot. Today, women represent more than half of the registered voters there. Now, 40 percent of children enrolled in school are girls. And life expectancy of all people has risen by 20 years! By empowering women, great things are happening in Afghanistan. And I'm living proof.
In 2007, I traveled across the globe to Dallas to take part in the PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS® program. What I learned from that experience helped me open my own successful fashion business in Kabul. Today, ten women and five men from my community work for me. But my story doesn't end there. To make real change, I challenged myself to do more to support my fellow countrywomen. Now, I'm using the skills I've learned to teach other women how to start and run their own businesses. I developed a women's network challenging these entrepreneurs to commit to paying forward their education and knowledge within Afghanistan. And I joined organizations like the Afghan Women's Network to advocate for women's rights at the highest levels. This past spring, in fact, I was one of seven businesswomen who met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to raise the platform on women's economic issues. And in April, I stood with thousands of other women to cast my vote in the presidential election.
Women everywhere, in every country -- large or small -- can have a profound impact on our global society. That's the message I delivered to 2014 PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS® graduates at a recent luncheon in their honor sponsored by AT&T. I offered them a challenge to be part of the effort to change their world. I offer that same challenge to each of you. Find a way to empower yourself and those around you to be part of that effort. Get involved -- mentor another woman, take part in local business organizations, meet with your policy representatives and support organizations working to better outcomes for women and girls. Because when you educate a woman, you can change the world.
In 2002, Afghanistan's Gross Domestic Product was only $2 billion. In 2012, the country's GDP increased tenfold to $20 billion. Yes, there are many things that contributed to that growth. But I, for one, am certain that the work that we have done to educate and empower women has made the greatest difference.