On December 7, 2010 at the European Parliament, EWI and the Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention brought together Afghan women parliamentarians with women MPs from Pakistan, Tunisia and Bangladesh. It was a rare chance for the Afghan MPs, who are isolated from their counterparts even in countries as close by as Pakistan, to speak frankly about the challenges of making policy – and to get advice from their peers in the Muslim world.
“There are common problems that we need to face,” said Dr. Attiya Inayatullah, Former Minister of Women’s Development, Social Welfare and Special Education of Pakistan, identifying the need to challenge extremism for women to take a truly active role in government.
Underlying the day’s talks was the prospect of reconciliation with the Taliban, which could threaten women’s right to rule (currently, a constitutionally-mandated quota insures women seats in Parliament). Women MPs urged Afghan women to take part in any talks with the Taliban, and push for broader societal change.
Saida Agrebi, an MP from Tunisia, emphasized the importance of teaching Muslim traditions in a way that emphasizes women’s rights. Other MPs discussed the importance of educating women, to empower them financially and politically, and using the media to challenge harmful female stereotypes.
One of the strongest recommendations to emerge from the conference was the idea of creating a standing regional group to connect Afghan women with women from other Muslim countries.
“We’re a little more familiar with the culture and context of what the Afghan women are facing and we have similar backgrounds, so we’d be able to help them enact the kind of changes that we’ve had in our countries towards women’s empowerment,” said Donya Aziz, an MP from Pakistan.
Inayatullah suggested that the network could take the shape of a regional institute for peace-building, training and employing women in conflict prevention.
For Afghan women politicians, help from western advocates is valuable, but support closer to home – indispensible.