Chargé d’Affaires Michael Raynor’s Remarks for Promote Scholarship Launch Ceremony (June 29, 2016)

June 29, 2016

I’m very honored to be here today to celebrate the launch of a great new scholarship program under the framework of USAID’s initiative for Promoting Gender Equity in National Priority Programs, perhaps better known as “Promote.”

These new scholarships will be administered by our long-term partner, the Asia Foundation, and will directly advance opportunities for almost one thousand Afghan women.

We are greatly honored by the presence of the Chief Executive of Afghanistan, Mr. Abdullah Abdullah, and we thank you very much for being here today.

I would also like to recognize and thank Minister Farida Mohmand, Minister Delbar Nazari, Minister Nasreen Oryakhail, Minister Assadullah Hanif Balkhy, the Asia Foundation Country Representative, Mr. Abdullah Ahmadzai, and our other honored guests for being part of today’s special event.

USAID Afghanistan launched the Promote program in November 2014, committing $216 million to help 75,000 young Afghan women become leaders in their fields over the course of the five-year program.

This is the largest women’s empowerment project in U.S. Government history.

Promote is a strategic investment in Afghan women at a critical moment in Afghanistan’s history, when gains for Afghan women are significant, but fragile.

The scholarship program we’re celebrating today builds on existing and previous USAID programs focusing on empowering women in Afghanistan, and specifically focuses on young, educated Afghan women.

I recently heard from one such young woman, who is one of the many who had to quit school at grade six during the Taliban era.

Hungry for education — and with her family’s support — she went back to school and now has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Kabul University.

Her future plan is to pursue a master’s degree and to contribute to her country’s advancement as a high-level advisor for the Afghan government.

Recently, this young woman learned about the Women’s Leadership and Empowerment course that Promote offers to young Afghan women.

By participating in the course, she gained leadership and management skills that will help her achieve her goals.

She told us that, and I quote, “by joining the Promote leadership course, my self-confidence is at an all-time high!”

For her fellow Afghan women, she had the following to say:

“Come. Learn the skills of reading, writing, critical thinking, and asking questions.  These skills will help you as you strive to empower yourselves!”

We couldn’t agree more.

And to promote women’s greater participation in higher education, the USAID Mission is injecting an additional $15 million into its Promote program to award hundreds of scholarships to deserving Afghan women.

Awards will be made in a broad range of studies — including science, technology, and health — that can promote Afghanistan’s stability and prosperity while helping to boost women’s representation across a broad spectrum of fields.

These scholarships will deliver tangible results, enabling young women to advance to the next level of leadership in the economic, political, and civil sectors of Afghan society.

We expect that the scholarships we’re celebrating today will increase the impact of women’s contributions to the economic growth of Afghanistan; strengthen women’s rights groups and coalitions; help to achieve a “critical mass” of qualified women in government decision-making bodies; and ensure that more women have all the skills necessary to be effective leaders.

These scholarships will help 720 women achieve their goals and build Afghanistan’s future by enrolling in and graduating from high-quality Bachelor’s degree programs through selected private universities throughout Afghanistan with academic programs that align with workforce needs.

Scholarships for graduate degree programs will also be awarded to women of exceptional promise.

An additional 180 scholarships will be available to help women attend universities in neighboring countries, allowing them to

advance in their current field of work or to pursue specific programs that are not available in Afghanistan.

The number of secondary school graduates in Afghanistan continues to increase, and the Ministry of Education is projecting that there will be over one million graduates by 2020, which is an extraordinary achievement.

Success in secondary school, however, increases the demand for higher education, making women’s access to higher education an increasingly vital concern.

Somewhere between 21 to 24 percent of students enrolled in higher education programs in Afghanistan are women.

That’s significantly more than in the past, but there’s room to do more.

While it is important to help young Afghan women afford their university educations, it is equally important to ensure that they can qualify for such enrollment in the first place.

Entry into higher education is based on the success of a student in the national Kankor examination, for which young women sometimes face disadvantages in achieving strong results.

We all know how important this examination is, and many families ensure that their sons get additional tutoring so they can receive a competitive score.

Young women do not always benefit from comparable support.

To address this, the Asia Foundation is offering an additional complementary program to help young women assume their places in universities.

Starting this year, and continuing for the next five years, 72,000 young women attending 400 secondary schools throughout Afghanistan will receive special assistance to prepare for this crucial test and earn their places in higher education.

We hope that this initiative, combined with the scholarship program we’re celebrating today, will make a real difference in the lives of thousands of Afghan women.

And so today we’re here for more than a ceremony, and we’re here to do more than launch a new scholarship program.

We’re here to celebrate the strong commitment shared by the United States and Afghanistan to promote women’s empowerment and the professional advancement and personal enrichment of Afghan women.

Thank you very much for your presence here today, and for your crucial support to this important event and these essential goals.