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Kerry, Clinton urge support for Afghan women

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during the Georgetown University Symposium “Advancing Afghan Women: Promoting Peace and Progress in Afghanistan” on November 15, 2013 in Healy Hall of Georgetown University in Washington, DC
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during the Georgetown University Symposium “Advancing Afghan Women: Promoting Peace and Progress in Afghanistan” on November 15, 2013 in Healy Hall of Georgetown University in Washington, DC

US Secretary of State John Kerry Friday joined forces with his predecessor Hillary Clinton to urge that hard-won gains for Afghan women since the fall of the Taliban be protected.

They were joined by former first lady Laura Bush, in a powerful plea to ensure that the rights of women in Afghanistan are not eroded as US and international forces prepare to leave the country next year.

"We all know that creating opportunities for women is not just the right thing to do. It's also a strategic necessity," Kerry told a symposium at Georgetown University.

"There's no question in my mind that investing in Afghan women is the surest way to guarantee that Afghanistan will sustain the gains of the last decade and never again become a safe haven for international terrorists."

Citing examples of Afghan women entrepreneurs, police officers, teachers and students, he said the women of Afghanistan never wanted to go back to the dark days of rule by Islamic Taliban militants when they were barred from going to school and from having jobs.

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the Georgetown University Symposium “Advancing Afghan Women: Promoting Peace and Progress in Afghanistan” on November 15, 2013 in Healy Hall of Georgetown University in Washington, DC
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the Georgetown University Symposium “Advancing Afghan Women: Promoting Peace and Progress in Afghanistan” on November 15, 2013 in Healy Hall of Georgetown University in Washington, DC

"Societies where women are safe, where women are empowered to exercise their rights and to move their communities forward – these societies are more prosperous and more stable – not occasionally, but always," Kerry said.

And he insisted that it was not just up to the women -- their menfolk also had to stand up for their rights.

"It will take the courage of every man who defends his daughter's right to an equal education; it will take the courage of every brother who challenges a law that keeps his sister from owning property or opening a business; and every husband who not only promises that the cycle of domestic violence can stop with him, but who actually proves it," Kerry said.

Clinton, who has long advocated for the rights and empowerment of all women, said that with 2014 looming Afghanistan stood at "a serious turning point."

She called on Georgetown students to discuss what they could do to support the young people of Afghanistan through virtual contacts and exchange programs.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stand at the Georgetown University Symposium “Advancing Afghan Women: Promoting Peace and Progress in Afghanistan” on November 15, 2013 in Washington, DC
US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stand at the Georgetown University Symposium “Advancing Afghan Women: Promoting Peace and Progress in Afghanistan” on November 15, 2013 in Washington, DC

"I'm so worried that once our troops leave no-one will pay attention again to Afghanistan," Bush told the audience.

"I want the people of Afghanistan to know that the people of the United States are with them and do support them."

In an op-ed in the Washington Post Friday, Bush warned that although 2.4 million girls were enrolled in schools by 2011 compared to 5,000 under the Taliban, the group's legacy has lingered.

"These gains are fragile, and there is a real danger that they will be reversed," Bush wrote.

"I worry that the message we are sending to Afghan men, women and children is that their lives are not worth our time or attention. That message must change. We cannot abandon them."