Afghan Women and Children Relief Act
The National Women's Museum in the Arts
December 12, 2001
11:35 A.M. EST
Thank you all. For several years, the people of Afghanistan have suffered under
one of the most brutal regimes -- brutal regimes -- in modern history; a regime
allied with terrorists and a regime at war with women. Thanks to our military
and our allies and the brave fighters of Afghanistan, the Taliban regime is
coming to an end. (Applause.)
Yet, our responsibilities to the people of Afghanistan have not ended. We work
for a new era of human rights and human dignity in that country. The agreement
reached in Bonn last week means that in 10 days, the international community
will have a new partner, an interim government of a new Afghanistan. (Applause.)
We join those in the interim government who seek education and better health
for every Afghan woman and child. And today, with the Afghan Women and Children
Relief Act, we take an important step toward that goal.
I want to thank Laura for her introduction, and I want to thank her for her
steadiness during this crisis. (Applause.) I want to thank Farida for her courage.
(Applause.) I want to thank the members of the House and the Senate who sponsored
this piece of legislation, and all the members of Congress who are here today.
I want to thank Sima Wali, who is the President and CEO of Refugee Women in
Development, a key advocate for women's rights at the Conference of Bonn negotiations
last week. (Applause.)
I thank the members of my Cabinet who are here, Secretary Veneman and Administrator
Whitman -- thank you all for being here. I want to thank the ambassadors who
are here representing the diplomatic corps. Thank you all for coming. And I
also want to thank Billie Holladay, for opening up this beautiful museum for
all of us to come and celebrate this important piece of legislation. (Applause.)
America is beginning to realize that the dreams of the terrorists and the Taliban
were a waking nightmare for Afghan women and their children. The Taliban murdered
teenagers for laughing in the presence of soldiers. They jailed children as
young as 10 years old, and tortured them for supposed crimes of their parents.
Afghan women were banned from speaking, or laughing loudly. They were banned
from riding bicycles, or attending school. They were denied basic health care,
and were killed on suspicion of adultery. One news magazine reports, "It's
hard to find a woman in Kabul who does not remember a beating at the hands of
In Afghanistan, America not only fights for our security, but we fight for values
we hold dear. We strongly reject the Taliban way. We strongly reject their brutality
toward women and children. (Applause.) They not only violate basic human rights,
they are barbaric in their indefensible meting of justice. It is wrong. Their
attitude is wrong for any culture. Their attitude is wrong for any religion.
You know, life in Afghanistan wasn't always this way. Before the Taliban came,
women played an incredibly important part of that society. Seventy percent of
the nation's teachers were women. Half of the government workers in Afghanistan
were women, and 40 percent of the doctors in the capital of Kabul were women.
The Taliban destroyed that progress. And in the process, they offered us a clear
image of the world they and the terrorists would like to impose on the rest
The central goal of the terrorists is the brutal oppression of women -- and
not only the women of Afghanistan. The terrorists who help rule Afghanistan
are found in dozens and dozens of countries around the world. And that is the
reason this great nation, with our friends and allies, will not rest until we
bring them all to justice. (Applause.)
America -- America is so proud of our military and our allies, because like
the rest of us here, we've seen the pictures of joy when we liberated city after
city in Afghanistan. And none of us will ever forget the laughter and the music
and the cheering and the clapping at a stadium that was once used for public
Children now fly kites and they play games. Women now come out of their homes
from house arrest, able to walk the streets without chaperons. "It feels
like we've all been released from prison," said one young person in Kabul,
"that the whole of Afghanistan has been released from prison."
This is an important achievement. Yet, a liberated Afghanistan must now be rebuilt
so that it will never again practice terror at home or abroad. This work begins
by ensuring the essential rights of all Afghans.
This week is Human Rights Week, when we celebrate the adoption of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights more than a century ago -- a half-century ago. The
preamble to that document declares that the people of the world reaffirm their
"faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human
person, and in equal rights of men and women."
This is a great goal, and that's why I'm so pleased that Afghanistan's new government
will respect the rights of all people, women and men. (Applause.)
America and our allies will do our part in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. We
learned our lessons from the past. We will not leave until the mission is complete.
(Applause.) We will work with international institutions on long-term development
-- on the long-term development of Afghanistan. We will provide immediate humanitarian
assistance to the people of Afghanistan.
After years of civil war and misrule by the Taliban, this is going to be an
incredibly difficult winter in Afghanistan. We're doing what we can to help
alleviate the suffering. In the month of November, the United Nations World
Food Program, with our strong support, provided enough supplies to feed 4.3
million Afghans. And the Defense Department will continue to make sure that
food is delivered in remote regions of that impoverished, poor, starving country.
The bill I sign today extends and strengthens our efforts. The Afghan Women
and Children Relief Act commits the United States to providing education and
medical assistance to Afghan women and children, and to Afghan refugees in surrounding
The overwhelming support for this legislation sends a clear message: As we drive
out the Taliban and the terrorists, we are determined to lift up the people
of Afghanistan. The women and children of Afghanistan have suffered enough.
This great nation will work hard to bring them hope and help.
To the bill's sponsors, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You show the
true compassion of this great land. May God bless the women and children of