Mrs. Laura Bush has been a longtime advocate for empowering women to serve as catalysts for change in emerging countries.
The former First Lady, now serving as chair of the Women’s Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute, discussed We Are Afghan Women: Voices of Hope, a new book highlighting the stories of 28 resilient women and one passionate young man working to help their country move forward. Mrs. Bush was joined by Manizha Naderi, executive director of Women for Afghan Women, whose personal story is featured in the book.
Mrs. Bush, on her motivation to help women in Afghanistan: “After September 11, the spotlight turned on Afghanistan and people saw the way women were treated. The very idea of marginalizing half of the population, which is what was going on in Afghanistan, leads to a failed country.”
Mrs. Bush, on the importance of civic institutions in a democracy: “We inherited [civic institutions] in the United States – like the independent press and independent judiciary -- and we take them for granted. All these things allow us to have a flourishing economy. And when you look at [the history of the United States], women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920. It took us a very, very long time, which is why we need to be patient with these other countries that are trying to build democracies.”
Mrs. Bush, on the increasing awareness around women’s economic empowerment: “Women’s issues are very important to a lot of people who’ve never really thought about women’s issues. And now we know more than ever what women contribute [to society]. If women are involved in the economy, the economy can be much more successful.”
Manizha Naderi, on the progress that’s been made in Afghanistan: “Afghanistan didn’t become today’s Afghanistan in 13 or 15 years. It has been 40 years of destruction, [so] it’s going to take at least 40 years, if not more, for the country to be rebuilt. In 2002 when the United States went to Afghanistan, we didn’t have anything. There was no education system. Everything was a blank piece of paper. Now we have millions of girls but also boys being educated. I know Americans are losing patience, saying ‘It has been 14 years and nothing has changed,’ but things are changing. It’s very important to talk about the progress that has been made in the country.”