TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
March 24, 1999
If you have ever spent time with a group of enthusiastic teenage girls, you can relate to an experience I had today at the New Horizons center in Cairo.
As I write this, I am at the end of my second day in Egypt, at the beginning of a 12-day trip that also includes stops in Tunisia and Morocco.
The populations of these three countries alone comprise almost one-half of the Arab world, representing a diversity of cultures, ethnic groups and histories. For too long, our relations have been affected by negative stereotyping on both sides, but I hope my visit will provide an opportunity to break down some of those stereotypes and strengthen the bonds of friendship between us.
Just such an opportunity arose during my conversations with the teenage girls and women at the New Horizons center, where the focus is basic life skills and reproductive health information. Like exuberant teenagers everywhere in the world, the girls I met couldn't stop talking about their favorite project -- producing short videos on issues including girls' education, early marriage and the environment.
One 65-year-old woman talked about the literacy class she is taking. Not only can she now read street signs and newspapers, but she was delighted to tell me how proud her children are of her.
Through innovative and popular programs such as this, the Egyptian government and non-governmental organizations are working to improve access to health care and reproductive health education, boost literacy rates among girls and women, and eliminate the practice of female genital mutilation.
Earlier in the day, I visited the well-known Khan El-Khalili tourist bazaar, where I met three shopkeepers who, with the help of small or microcredit loans, have been able to establish thriving businesses. Each pointed with great pride to the garments, ornaments, beads and other items they were selling. One, who was crafting metal by hand, was proud to tell me that he'd learned his trade from his father, who had learned it from his father.
What I saw there was the same success story I've seen all over the world: A small amount of credit transforms lives, giving people dignity, a stake in their society and a means to support their family. And a repayment rate approaching 98 percent is the envy of most private financial institutions.
Later, I toured a new health center where women and children, especially the poor, can now get prenatal care, immunizations, family planning and other services.
Each of these programs is supported in some part by the United States Agency for International Development, and as has been the case with most of the USAID-funded projects I've visited around the world, I wish that every American could see what I saw: people who are often poor and have little formal education but who share the same hopes and aspirations we all have. With just a little support and encouragement, they are creating better futures for themselves and their families.
Egypt's President Mubarak and his wife are committed to preserving the precious antiquities and rich cultural and religious heritage of the country, which has a civilization dating back nearly 7,000 years and is historically and geographically at the center of the Arab world. They are equally determined to empower Egyptian women to live in a modern society.
Five years ago, Egypt demonstrated its leadership in empowering women when it hosted the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development. Since then, the government has developed a number of outstanding programs, such as those I saw, with impressive results. Infant, child and maternal mortality are down. Population growth rates are approaching sustainable levels, and vaccination rates are among the highest in the world.
This week, the world marks the 20th anniversary of the historic Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement signed by Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. These visionary leaders knew that the price of their actions would be high but the benefits of peace would be real for their people. As I witness the progress Egypt is making in the areas of women's rights, literacy, health care and economic development, I can see the tangible benefits of peace. Leah Rabin, the widow of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who gave his life for the peace process, once said, "War solves nothing. Our area thirsts for peace, for the benefit of all peoples living there. Our true enemies are poverty, illiteracy, disease and inequality of opportunity."
The leaders of Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco understand this well. As I travel through this ancient land, I am pleased to share with you the efforts they are making, often with the help of our government, to raise the standard of living of their people, educate their children, eliminate disease and preserve their rich heritage.
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