Former First Lady Laura Bush encouraged women advisors to get involved with efforts to help women in emerging countries overcome outdated social mores that are holding back progress.

Speaking Tuesday at Financial Advisor magazine’s second annual Invest in Women conference in Dallas, Bush said she and husband George are spending a lot of their time with the Bush Presidential Center and the related Bush Institute in their new hometown of Dallas, working on programs to promote global democracy and freedom.

Mrs. Bush chairs the Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative, which helps women in Afghanistan, Egypt and Tunisia through mentorship and other programs.

“We’re trying to help them build the institutions to support democracy,” she said.

In celebration of International Women’s Day in March, the Institute released a new book, “We Are Afghan Women: Voices of Hope,” which has stories “from all walks of life,” Mrs. Bush said. “It’s a rare portrait of Afghanistan today, truly a history of the last 40 or so years of how people who’ve been oppressed have endured.”

The focus on global women’s issues springs from her work after 9/11.

“When George was elected president, we believed that the challenges facing the country from within were going to be more urgent than those from without,” Mrs. Bush said. “The Cold War was over, the Berlin Wall had fallen, Germany was reunited, Russia was no longer our enemy, peace was on its way to the Balkans and to Northern Ireland. … Global terrorism had yet to emerge as a threat to our national survival.”

Mrs. Bush got busy promoting literacy and organizing the first National Book Festival, held Sept. 8, 2001, in Washington, D.C., modeled after a similar event she helped organize in Texas.

But the terrorist attacks days later changed all of that.

“I was no longer just speaking out about literacy,” Mrs. Bush said. “I was giving a radio address denouncing the brutal treatment of women and children by the Taliban. I was no longer just organizing book festivals, I was visiting with a class of courageous women and police officers” in Afghanistan.