January 8th, 2016
Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib and Mrs. Lael Mohib hosted a gala dinner in honor of the accomplishments of the alumnae and students of The Initiative to Educate Afghan Women. More than a hundred supporters of women’s education in Afghanistan attended the dinner. Amongst them were high-level dignitaries including, Dr. Mohammad H. Qayoumi, Chief Advisor on Infrastructure and Technology to President Ghani, Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-CA), Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI), Tina Tchen, Assistant to President Obama and Chief of Staff for First Lady Michelle Obama, and James Cunningham, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan.
The evening started with an opening speech by Mrs. Mohib, who remarked, “Tonight, we gather not only to celebrate these young women and recognize their own accomplishments, but also to recognize and celebrate the millions of Afghan women today who are pursuing an education, joining the workforce, and using their skills to contribute to a better future for Afghanistan.” Her speech was followed by remarks from Executive Director of The Initiative, Mr. Christian Wistehuff, who recognized a special guest, three alumnae and a current student of The Initiative with awards for their exemplary work.
• Mrs. Shahin Mafi received the Appreciation Award for her generous support of The Initiative’s mission and students
• Ms. Nadia Sakhi (Roger Williams Class of 2010) received the Alumnae Award for her service upon graduation at USAID and for her assistance in planning Intersession 2015-2016
• Uzra Azizi (College of the Holy Cross Class of 2012) received the Alumnae Award for her community engagement efforts on behalf of The Initiative and for donating her time and legal expertise to support freshmen students in their visa applications
• Marzia Nawrozi (Meredith College Class of 2013) received the Alumnae Award for raising her voice on behalf of Afghan women in a variety of publications and for her professional and volunteer support for Afghan and global women’s issues at leading advocacy organizations
• Wasima S. (Russell Sage College Class of 2016) received the Kobra Ahmadi Memorial Award for Academic and Leadership Excellence for her outstanding work as an honors pre-med student of biology despite a six-year interruption of her primary education during the Taliban regime and for building a bridge between US speech pathologists and Afghan doctors to provide training on the diagnosis and treatment of speech pathology issues in Afghan children.
Ambassador Mohib was the keynote speaker for the evening, who spoke about the progress made in advancing women’s empowerment and education in Afghanistan and reaffirmed the National Unity Government’s commitment to overcoming the challenges that remain. He then invited Dr. Qayoumi to share a few words with the attendees. Dr. Qayoumi ended his speech with the inspirational words, “It is my hope that in my lifetime, I will see a woman President lead Afghanistan.”
The following is a transcript of Ambassador Mohib’s speech at the gala dinner:
I am absolutely delighted to be here with all of you and I am honored to be in the company of these very impressive students. Let me say, first, to them: congratulations. You and your families should feel very proud of what you have accomplished.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge and thank some distinguished guests who are with us tonight. Students, Mr. Wistehuff, distinguished members of Congress Susan Davis and David Cicilline, Ms. Tina Tchen, Dr. Qayoumi, Ambassadors, and all distinguished guests, welcome to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
The education of Afghan girls and women is an issue that is very close to my heart. When I look at my small daughter, I want her to have every available opportunity so that when she grows up, she can follow her dreams and fulfill her potential. There are millions of fathers and mothers in Afghanistan, who want the same thing for their daughters. The Initiative to Educate Afghan Woman has done a remarkable job helping young women follow their dreams since 2003.
Today, more than ever, Afghanistan needs strong women leaders. We are at the beginning of what President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah have named “the transformation decade.” The historic reform program that the National Unity Government launched when it was elected in 2014 is guided by one overarching goal: to make Afghanistan a self-reliant, peaceful, prosperous country within a decade. But we will never get there unless Afghan girls and women can walk side-by-side with Afghan boys and men on the journey.
We need women like those we honor tonight to help lead the way. Our success as a country depends on it. That’s why President Ashraf Ghani has made the education and empowerment of women one of the government’s top priorities. This is a man who can only be described as a fierce protector of women’s rights. This is a man who, in his first year in office: ordered a review of every case where a woman was jailed on accusations of so-called moral crimes, appointed two women provincial governors, had a cabinet with four women ministers, and nominated the first woman to serve on the Afghan Supreme Court.
He has a formidable partner in First Lady Rula Ghani, who has become a role model for many. Our distinguished First Lady is using the visibility of her position to raise awareness of the repression that Afghan women and girls still face, and to champion their empowerment and education.
It is undeniable that: Afghanistan’s economy will be stronger when there are more female entrepreneurs and business managers. Our health care system will be better with the contributions and understanding of women doctors. Our justice sector will be wiser when we have more female lawyers and judges. And, our technological innovation will be more creative when we have more women scientists and engineers.
There have been major gains for girls and women in the last several years – there are now nearly 4 million girls in school. But the situation is far from acceptable. For every 100 boys in primary school, there are only 71 girls. That is the biggest gender disparity in primary education anywhere in the world. And among the girls who do begin primary school, only 21 percent finish. In many areas of the country, the confinement of women, forced marriage, and domestic abuse still occur. Believe me when I say we are working harder than any government in Afghanistan’s history to change that.
In just 15 months, Women’s health needs are being better looked after thanks to the Ministry of Public Health’s Breast Cancer Prevention and Advocacy Campaign, which the First Lady helped champion. The government’s National Priority Program for the Economic Empowerment of Women has been approved and is moving toward realization. For the first time, Afghanistan will have an institution of higher learning just for women, and run only by women. The government has allocated free land for this, and plans are being drawn up as I speak. Our plan to bring more women into government jobs has resulted in the Ministry of Interior, among many others, reaching the halfway point of its goal of recruiting 5,000 women.
We are working to make it easier for women who suffer domestic abuse and other forms of injustice to ask law enforcement for help by hiring and training more female police officers. And the workplace is being made safer for women now that the Cabinet has approved a new regulation aimed at eliminating the sexual harassment of female employees in the public sector.
We will continue to do everything we can at the government level to elevate the status of women and girls — and to set an example for the private sector and rest of society to follow.
And, we deeply hope The Initiative to Educate Afghan Women will continue its life-changing work, as well. The brilliant young women it helps become brilliant young leaders bring their knowledge and skills back to Afghanistan when they graduate. And then, each of these women becomes a beacon of light – not just for other women and girls, but for all Afghan citizens.