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First Lady Announces GU-Afghan Pact; University to Widen Role in Council

By Max Sarinsky
The Georgetown Hoya

First lady Laura Bush announced a partnership between Georgetown and the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council yesterday in Gaston Hall, adding that Georgetown will ‘now contribute even more’ to the council than it has in recent years.

Living conditions for women in Afghanistan have improved markedly in the five years since the U.S. invasion, first lady Laura Bush said yesterday during a ceremony in Gaston Hall commemorating the launch of a partnership between Georgetown and the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council.

Bush, in her first public speech on campus since March 2005, announced that the council will develop a more formal relationship with Georgetown, which has taken part in the council’s biennial meetings in the past. The council was created in 2002 by President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai to further initiatives for Afghan women.

The first lady said that the council’s partnership with the university will allow it to better integrate Georgetown’s vast resources.

“It must become a sustainable institution independent of the federal government,” she said. “Today begins a two-year transition that will fully integrate the council in the Georgetown community.”

Georgetown has been supportive of the council in recent years, she said, and will “now contribute even more.”

University President John J. DeGioia said at the start of the ceremony that Georgetown was committed to aiding in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and was honored to accept the distinction.

“Georgetown looks forward to contributing to putting the council in the best possible position in the future,” he said.

Siria Lopez, senior advisor at the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Women’s Issues, which has worked with the council, said in an interview that it will take two years determine Georgetown’s precise role with the council.

Lopez said that both the U.S. and Afghan governments will retain their control over the council, and that Paula Dobriansky (SFS ’77), undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs, who also spoke in Gaston yesterday, would continue to serve as its co-chair.

“The State Department will always be very interested,” she said.

Lopez said that Georgetown was selected to take a greater role in the council because of its support for the council in the past and its proximity to the institutions of the federal government.

“Georgetown was just very, very well-placed,” she said.

In her address, the first lady said that Afghanistan has seen dramatic improvements since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, with progress continuing in the restoration of health care, education, infrastructure and democracy.

“Hopes for a peaceful, prosperous, free Afghanistan have been restored,” she said.

Bush said that Afghan women, who encountered wide-ranging repression under the Taliban, have made tremendous strides in all sectors of Afghan society and economy in the past five years.

She said that the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council has provided vocational training for women to become judges, lawyers, midwives and other professionals, and has also fostered economic opportunities for women. She said that one of the council’s initiatives has helped sell rugs made by Afghan women, which she said now “can be seen in homes throughout the world, including mine. That’s the White House.”

Said Jawad, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, said later in the ceremony that Afghanistan has made progress but still has significant steps to take. He said that terrorism remains a major threat and that the country can also make improvements in health and education.

“We have come a long way in Afghanistan, but we are not out of the woods yet,” he said. “The majority of classrooms in Afghanistan is still in a tent or under a tree, so there is still a long way to go.”

Jawad said that Georgetown’s partnership with the council will further Afghanistan’s development.

“This is a great cause,” he said. “We will certainly succeed. We are facing many challenges.”

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