“Throughout Afghanistan there are many of us who through small actions, sacrifices and working hard to transform our future. But we need your help. All of you.” – Anita Haidary
The Initiative To Educate Afghan Women student, Anita Haidary (Mount Holyoke – Class of 2014) was a featured speaker at “Advancing Afghan Women: Promoting Peace and Progress in Afghanistan,” along with former First Lady Laura Bush, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry at Georgetown University on November 15. The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, which Mrs. Clinton says may be the “first ever” such institute in the world, co-sponsored the symposium with the George W. Bush Institute, the US Afghan Women’s Council, and the US Alliance in Support of the Afghan People.
“We are not stuck in the past,” Anita told that gathering of diplomats, academics, representatives of organizations working on behalf of Afghans, and several female students participating by telelink from American University of Afghanistan in Kabul. “Our country is made up of 60% young men and women, people who are hungry for change. Our women are not simply victims. We see ourselves as agents of change.”
Anita, co-founder of Young Women for Change in Kabul, explained how her studies in California opened her eyes to the impact small actions can have.
“When I returned to Kabul, I talked to my fellow students and started mentoring others. We were tired of being harassed when we tried to lead a normal life, like going to school or shopping. We decided to go out – young men and young women – and confront those who harassed us. We organized a demonstration to make our voices heard. It was an example of small collective action making a big impact.”
Mr. Kerry, Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Bush joined Anita in making passionate pleas that the US troop drawdown would not undermine efforts for Afghan women. “We can point to a lot of progress,” Mrs. Clinton stated, “But we’re well aware this is a serious turning point for the hard-fought gains that women and girls have been able to enjoy.”
Mrs. Bush agreed, saying, “I fear that once our troops leave, the eyes of Americans will move away. I am so worried that they will think we have forgotten them again. I want the people of Afghanistan to know that the people of America are with them.”
Mr. Kerry concurred. “As Afghanistan sees women standing up in Afghanistan, taking control of their country’s future, not only for themselves, but for all Afghans, we have to be determined that they will not stand alone,” he said, adding, “America’s relationship with Afghanistan is changing, it’s not ending.”
Mr. Kerry then put his diplomatic skills to good effect, helping Anita position a footstool behind the podium so she could be seen. “You have no idea how your work has impacted women in Afghanistan,” she told him and the former first ladies. “Throughout Afghanistan there are many of us who through small actions, sacrifices and working hard to transform our future. But we need your help. All of you.”