Laura Bush speaks out on women’s issues across two continents in 10 months

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) – She’s far from being tagged a feminist, yet Laura Bush, the librarian-turned-first lady who’s often seen reading aloud to children, is raising her voice on women’s issues around the world.

In travels over the past 10 months from Afghanistan to the Middle East to Africa, Mrs. Bush has broadened her focus on education, her trademark issue, to push equal opportunities for women in nations where they often have second-class status.

Discussing women’s issues is a bit more challenging than reading “Make Way for Ducklings” to schoolchildren. Mrs. Bush, soft-spoken and polite, has found herself in frank chats abroad about sexuality, AIDS and rape in addition to less-sensitive topics like helping women gain access to education, health care and jobs.

It was the jarring accounts of severe repression and brutality against women in Afghanistan that piqued her interest in women’s lives abroad.

“I think that what happened to me really happened also to the other people in the United States,” Mrs. Bush said, reflecting on her plane during a four-day swing through West Africa, a trip that ends on Wednesday.

“After Sept. 11, when we all looked at Afghanistan and saw the oppression of women there, it awakened a lot of people to the plight of women around the world,” she said.

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