Samuel J. Heyman Service To America Medals
2008 Winner
National Security and International Affairs


Mary Katherine Friedrich

Special Advisor to the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC


Leads the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, a major public/private effort to enhance the economic, social and political status of Afghan women.


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Afghanistan has made great progress on the path to becoming a free and democratic society since its liberation from Taliban rule in 2002. Few areas have seen greater improvement than the conditions of women, and few people outside of Afghanistan have done more to drive these positive changes than Kate Friedrich. As the head of day-to-day operations for the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, she is empowering Afghan women to build better lives and engaging powerful partners to support the efforts of these courageous women.

After decades of enjoying relative freedom to seek an education and pursue a professional career, Afghan women had their rights completely stripped by the Taliban in the early 1990s. Women were banned from working outside of the home. They were prohibited from going to schools. They were not allowed out of the home without wearing a burqa, which covered them from head-to-toe. The Taliban even limited their access to medical care and subjected them to inhumane punishments such as public beatings for even the most minor violations of the restrictions on their freedoms.

The overthrow of the Taliban and the adoption of a new constitution, which states that “the citizens of Afghanistan—whether man or woman—have equal rights and duties before the law,” were dramatic first steps down the road to equality for Afghan women. But Friedrich understood that these victories were just the start of what will be a long and arduous path forward.

Friedrich is known as “the pillar of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council,” a public-private partnership launched in 2002 by President George W. Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, which was designed to help mobilize public and private resources to assist Afghan women in regaining economic, social and political status. Friedrich has managed every aspect of the Council, from fundraising to overseas travel logistics to the coordination of the various public- and private-sector players. She has made countless trips to Afghanistan where her diplomatic skills are described as “formidable” by her peers. Friedrich’s creativity and ability to get things done under difficult circumstances have been remarkable throughout the development and implementation of the Council and its projects, which today total more than $70 million in programming.

With Friedrich’s persistence, the Council has been able to improve the prospects for countless Afghan women in need. She launched a micro-finance program with Daimler Chrysler, which began with three female enrollees. One year later, the number of women participating increased to 80. Today, the program has served more than 30,000 Afghan women. With support from the Council, Time Warner and USAID, women’s resource centers have been opened and equipped throughout Afghanistan, funded by more than $3.5 million for training in literacy, small business administration and management of nongovernmental organizations. A one-time training program for Afghan women entrepreneurs at Thunderbird University has grown into an annual course, graduating women in management skills and partnering them with American mentors. A project by Public Broadcasting Service to train Afghan women journalists led to the filming of the award-winning documentary “Afghanistan Unveiled.” And, with assistance from USAID, a Women’s Teacher Training Institute was opened at Kabul University.

In addition to her responsibilities running the Council, Friedrich is highly engaged in two other high profile issues that require much of her time and attention—conditions for Iraqi refugees and promoting substantive talks between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama.

Kate Friedrich’s tireless dedication to the Council has earned the respect and praise of First Lady Laura Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Afghan government, and business and foundation leaders. Most important, she has secured the admiration of thousands of Afghan women whose lives she has touched by giving them confidence in their future and inspiring them to contribute to the political and economic reconstruction of their nation.


Honoree Details

Mary Katherine Friedrich

Special Advisor to the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC


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