Laura Bush Meets With US-Afghan Women's Council
By Michael Bowman
Voice of America
18 December 2008
For the last time as first lady, Laura Bush has
presided over a meeting of an organization dedicated
to promoting women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan.
During the meeting at the White House, U.S.-Afghan
Women's Council participants discussed achievements
and challenges in the quest to grow the ranks of
businesswomen in a historically male-dominated nation.
Ever since the United States invaded Afghanistan in
late 2001, First Lady Laura Bush has taken a special
interest in the Afghan people, particularly its women.
For years, the country's former Taliban leaders
banned women from formal education and did not
tolerate women who stood on their own as business
Mrs. Bush said Afghan women have made great strides
in recent years, but much remains to be done.
"The women of Afghanistan still need a lot of
encouragement. We know that, because of years of lack
of education, a lack of health care, of extreme
poverty, that women in Afghanistan still face many,
many challenges," she said.
The first lady was speaking in a video teleconference
between the White House and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
In attendance were U.S. and Afghan officials, American
business leaders and academics, and Afghan
businesswomen who, together, form the U.S.-Afghan
The council seeks to link aspiring Afghan
entrepreneurs with U.S. business leaders and
professors who can serve as mentors and help the women
launch their fledgling businesses. Begun by President
Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2002, the
council has devoted tens of million of dollars to a
wide range of educational and training programs in
Afghanistan, while also bringing Afghan women to the
United States for schooling.
The council heard from a variety of women who now
run businesses ranging from fruit packing to soccer
ball manufacturing to selling women's lingerie - a
first for Afghanistan.
One entrepreneur, Masooda Sultan, was born in
Afghanistan, came to the United States as a child, and
returned to her native country following the Taliban's
ouster from power. Sultan said hurdles remain for
Afghan women - in the courts, for instance, she said
the testimony of a lone woman cannot be heard without
a male relative present.
"It is an example of some of the difficulties in
the formal legal system that we still have to get over
- they are a bit of a disadvantage. However, I think
there are advantages, as well, to being a woman
entrepreneur in Afghanistan. There is the element of
surprise. When I walk into a room, and it is full of
men, they often think I am someone's secretary. And I
have gotten many job offers. And then I tell them,
'actually I am in business and if you want to partner
up [with me] for something, that is great.," said
All participants thanked Mrs. Bush for her efforts
on behalf of Afghan women over the last seven years.
For her part, the first lady said she intends to
continue to advocate for the people of Afghanistan as
a private citizen after leaving the White House.
Washington's Georgetown University will manage the
council during the transition period to the Obama