As George Bush’s presidency comes to an end, it seems a fitting time to acknowledge and honor the accomplishments of his wife, First Lady Laura Bush. This is especially important because Laura Bush has often been unfairly painted as a “typical Republican Stepford wife.” In addition, there have been rumors that finding a publisher for her memoirs has not been as easy as it has been for other first ladies, perhaps due to the media’s bias along with their stereotypical image of her. The fact is that Laura Bush has been working in an unassuming manner for eight years, advancing many noteworthy causes — many of them related to women’s rights.
First Lady Bush’s lifelong dedication to promoting literacy is well documented. As honorary ambassador for the United Nations Literacy Decade, Mrs. Bush convened leaders from around the world during the United Nations General Assembly session for the White House Conference on Global Literacy in September of 2006. She has often spoken about her belief that literacy is essential for achieving the goals of eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, fostering economic development, and achieving gender equality. However, Laura Bush’s passion as an advocate for some of the most serious issues facing women today is almost unknown.
Laura Bush’s advocacy for women’s health began with breast cancer awareness while she was first lady of Texas, and has continued during her time as our country’s first lady through her partnership with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation. In 2007, Mrs. Bush’s work to raise both awareness of and research grants for women’s health issues resulted in the expansion of Texas Tech’s Women’s Health Institute to include the Jenna Welch Women’s Center, named after Mrs. Bush’s mother who is a breast cancer survivor. Mrs. Bush has continued to travel throughout the world to raise awareness of women’s health issues and has just celebrated her fifth anniversary as ambassador of The Heart Truth, an organization dedicated to promoting the need for detection and prevention of heart disease in women.
In contrast to Mrs. Bush’s national public image, people in her home state of Texas have a more positive view of her, believing she has what is known locally as “spunk.” This brand of quiet, brave feminism was demonstrated to the world in 2001 when, as the first non-president to host a weekly presidential radio address, Mrs. Bush delivered a scathing condemnation of the brutal oppression of women in Afghanistan.
Mrs. Bush has continued to support the women in that region through her work with coalitions of groups who are determined to address oppression, education, and women’s health in the Middle East. She serves as the honorary chair of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, created by Presidents Bush and Karzai in 2002. The council’s goal is to promote both private and public partnerships between U.S. and Afghan institutions, and to mobilize private resources to ensure Afghan women have opportunities to gain the skills and education they were denied them under the Taliban.
To date, the council has implemented over 30 initiatives in support of Afghan women in the areas of economic empowerment, education, political participation, health, and children’s issues, totaling approximately $70 million. Fewer than a million Afghan children attended school in 2001, and all of them were boys. Today, more than six million Afghan children are enrolled in school, and a third of them are girls. Mrs. Bush is committed to continuing her advocacy for these women after President Bush leaves office by routinely meeting with students, teachers, parliamentarians, lawyers, and judges during their visits to the United States for education and training.
Laura Bush has often spoken about the importance of women’s education in countries around the world. The Ambassadors Girls Scholarship Program, part of the president’s Africa Education Initiative, has awarded 375,000 scholarships in 40 countries, totaling $46 million. These funds are used to support girls in both primary and secondary school, allowing them to develop into educated members of their societies. During five visits to Africa, Mrs. Bush has met with many recipients of the Ambassadors Girls Scholarship Program. These girls, as the future of women’s leadership in the region, will play positive roles in the education, political, and economic sectors of their countries.
First Lady Laura Bush should be saluted for her efforts on behalf of women and children around the world.