One of these young women is Maryam Durani. The 27-year old Afghani from one of the toughest regions of that county – Kandahar - is a forceful advocate for the rights of Afghan women and girls. She is a member of Kandahar’s Provincial Council, the director of the non-profit Khadija Kubra Women’s Association for Culture, and owner and manager of the only local, female-focused radio station. She is both a leader and a role model for women throughout Afghanistan. Despite surviving an assassination attempt and continuing to face threats on her life, Maryam soldiers on.
I’m delighted to say Maryam is also an alumnus of a State Department International Visitor Program (IVLP) that was run by the Meridian International Center. Maryam came through Meridian just last October as part of a delegation of rising Afghani women leaders.
The ceremony drove home an important point to me. Supporting women’s empowerment is at the crux of addressing weaknesses in society. It is what underlies conflict and inequitable power distribution. Egyptian poet Hafez Ibrahim, once said "when you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” And the outgoing World Bank President, Robert Zoellick, has also reiterated the same point during his stewardship of the Bank.
Those sentiments were clear and strong in Secretary Clinton’s remarks last week when she said “Investing in women and girls is good for societies, and it is also good for the future prosperity of countries. Women drive our economies. They build peace and prosperity and political stability for everyone—men and women, boys and girls.”
Many around the world obviously concur on Secretary Clinton’s point. International Women’s Day has become so widely recognized that according to the official International Women's Day website, over 430 events were planned to mark the day around the world. It is a national holiday in some countries, including China, Russia, Vietnam, and Bulgaria. But perhaps the most telling acknowledgement of how far we’ve come in recognizing this important day was Google’s decision to create a Google Doodle for International Women’s Day in bright colors, with the universal female symbol replacing the first "g."
The stories of these women capture the reason why International Women’s Day should matter to us all. Women are the cornerstone of societies all over the world, as wives, daughters, sisters, mothers and grandmothers. By improving conditions in order to take full advantage of their potential, by recognizing their extraordinary contributions, we achieve a ripple effect that will last for generations.
Manatt is the chair of the Meridian International Center’s Council on Women’s Leadership and formerly served with the U.S. Department of State as senior policy advisor for Western Hemisphere Affairs.