Over the course of a decade and through the administrations of two presidents of different political parties, the United States has maintained a consistent commitment to support the women of Afghanistan through the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council (USAWC).
USAWC is a public-private partnership established by President George W. Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2002. Since its creation, representatives of the U.S. and Afghan governments, private sector, academia, and non-governmental organizations have joined hands to develop and carry out initiatives in support of Afghan women and girls. Today the Council is housed at Georgetown University. I have the privilege to co-chair the council with GU's President, John J. DeGioia.
To mark the tenth anniversary of this extraordinary project, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently hosted a celebration at the State Department, which welcomed special guest Laura Bush, whose advocacy and support has been instrumental to the Council's work.
In her remarks, Secretary Clinton underscored the progress of women in Afghanistan in building a better future of stability and peace. "In ways that often go unnoticed and certainly uncelebrated, the women of Afghanistan are hard at work each and every day solving Afghanistan's problems and serving her people," she said. "Now, for many Afghan women, the help they have received from this council has made all the difference. "
Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul also participated. While acknowledging that great challenges remain, he noted the extraordinary accomplishments of his country's women. "There is no doubt," he said, "that we have had these achievements chiefly because the Afghan people want it, support them, and because courageous Afghan women have fought for them."
I have been blessed to meet with remarkable women around the world who are advancing economic, political and social progress. They are true agents of change, serving on the frontlines. Since the fall of the Taliban, women have made significant strides. Life expectancies for women have been raised from 44 to 62 years of age. After years of being denied access to education, 3 million school girls are now back where they belong -- in the classroom, where they make up nearly 40 percent of all primary school students. Nearly 120,000 girls have graduated from high school, with another 15,000 enrolled in universities, and 500 women serving on university faculties. Maternal and infant mortality rates are on the rapid decline.
Both the Afghan people and the international community played active roles in the effort to fully empower women. With the support of the private sector and American people, the USAWC has undertaken many programs to support women and girls through a wide variety of efforts -- scholarships and literacy promotion; instruction in artisan-based employment; business and management training; counseling and shelter for victims of violence; and fostering mentoring and leadership exchanges.
At the celebration, Secretary Clinton announced an award from the Department of Defense to the Friends of the American University of Afghanistan Foundation for $5 million. The grant is to be used to construct and equip the International Center for Afghan Women's Economic Development, to be located at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul. In addition, Vartan Gregorian, the President of the Carnegie Corporation, honored the work of the USAWC by committing $1 million in scholarship funding for Afghan women to study in universities in their country.
Even as we measure our progress, we know that much remains to be done to ensure that a daughter born in Afghanistan has the same opportunities as a son. Even as the United States begins to withdraw combat troops and transfer security responsibilities to the Afghan people, we will continue to be actively engaged in the hard work of promoting peace and stability. And we will continue to affirm the essential role that women must play in the hard work of securing and rebuilding communities, and their God-given right to live to their fullest potential.
Follow Melanne Verveer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MelanneVerveer