Asia Foundation’s Lotus Circle Honors First Lady of Afghanistan Rula Ghani and Carnegie Corporation of New York

New York City, May 9, 2016 — The Asia Foundation and the Lotus Circle, a community of U.S. individuals, foundations, and corporations who raise private capital to rapidly respond to challenges and opportunities facing women in Asia, will honor First Lady of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Mrs. Rula Ghani at the sixth annual Lotus Leadership Awards Gala in New York City on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. Mrs. Ghani, selected as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2015, will be recognized for her efforts to improve living standards for Afghan women. Dr. Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York, will accept a Lotus Leadership Award on behalf of the institution for its partnership with The Asia Foundation to improve access to university and advanced level education to Afghan women. Proceeds from the evening will support innovative women’s empowerment projects at The Asia Foundation.

The evening is a platform for advancing the rights and opportunities of women and girls and is attended by global leaders. Former U.S. First Lady Laura Bush will offer a special video message to First Lady Rula Ghani. In 2015, journalist and author Sheryl WuDunn, and Dr. Ranjana Kumari, a leader in the women’s rights movement in India, were honored. In 2014, Asia Foundation Trustee Ambassador Melanne Verveer, appointed by President Obama as the First U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, introduced a video appearance by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which she congratulated Nobel Peace Laureate Muhammad Yunus on his Lotus Leadership Award. Former ABC 20/20 correspondent Lynn Sherr, who has reported on women’s issues for 30 years, hosts the gala.

Mrs. Ghani is being recognized for her encouragement of Afghan women, affected by decades of conflict, to now reclaim the country’s history of strong female leadership. Said Mrs. Ghani: “We need to give Afghan women the tools to succeed.”

Asia Foundation President David D. Arnold noted that “the progress of Afghanistan is not ensured unless there is an increase of education and opportunities for women. As First Lady, Madame Ghani is a wonderful champion of women’s education and gender equality.”

After the Taliban regime fell, Afghan women had one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world—only 10 percent of Afghan women could read and write. In 2012, Dr. Gregorian announced the Carnegie Corporation Scholarships for Afghan Women, a $1 million grant to The Asia Foundation that has enabled women from diverse backgrounds to gain university degrees. Said Dr. Gregorian: “Together we are empowering inspiring, self-reliant individuals and institutions—through knowledge—so that they are able to tackle the complex development challenges of their country.”

Mr. Arnold added: “The Carnegie Corporation understands that women’s education is essential to help address pressing economic and social needs in Afghanistan. Their scholarships are providing life-changing opportunities that make all the difference.”

The Asia Foundation is at the forefront of empowering women across Asia. In Afghanistan, this includes a focus on girls’ and women’s education as the key to strengthening women’s participation in social, political, and economic life. In the Foundation’s 2015 Afghan Survey of 9,586 Afghan citizens, Afghans listed education and illiteracy (20.4%) and unemployment/lack of job opportunities (11.3%) as the two largest problems facing women. The Foundation began working in Afghanistan in 1954 and re-opened its Kabul office in 2002.

The Lotus Circle is a membership community that enables The Asia Foundation Women’s Empowerment Program to pilot projects that empower women and eliminate barriers that constrain their opportunities. In India, where violence against women is an epidemic, The Lotus Circle supported SafetiPin, a mobile app which allows users to pinpoint unsafe areas for women. In Bangladesh, funds allow women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses using e-commerce websites.

The Asia Foundation is grateful to Premier Sponsor Bank of America Merrill Lynch. MasterCard and Vista Equity Partners are Golden Benefactors. Bravia Capital; Carnegie Corporation of New York; EY; Kirkland & Ellis; and Morgan Stanley are Benefactors. Special thanks to The Estee Lauder Companies.

The Asia Foundation is a nonprofit international development organization committed to improving lives across a dynamic and developing Asia. Our Women’s Empowerment Program develops women’s leadership, increases women’s rights and security, and creates new political and economic opportunities for women.

Read our In Asia blog for more.

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Related locations: New York
Related programs: Empower Women, Lotus Circle

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