New International Support and Connections for Afghan Women Politicians
On December 7, the EastWest Institute and the Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention brought together women parliamentarians from Afghanistan and other Muslim countries, as well as Western advocates, at the European Parliament. The goal: to support Afghan women politicians, who are largely isolated from their counterparts even in countries as close as Pakistan, in their efforts to legislate, advance human rights and work for peace.
Afghan women politicians spoke directly about their experiences, from the real personal risks they took running for office to the difficulties of making policy in a society traditionally ruled by men.
“We women are challenged daily in our lives inside and outside the parliament,” said Shinkai Karokhail, a two-term MP. She cited the difficulty of assuring education for girls (female literacy in Afghanistan is under 20%) and women’s own lack of confidence in themselves as leaders after years of disenfranchisement.
Karokhail also pointed out that the presence of Afghan women in Parliament, assured in part thanks to a constitutionally-mandated quota, should not be mistaken for political power. According to several participants, the prospect of reconciliation with the Taliban – with the political compromises that might entail – could undermine the future of Afghan women in Parliament and society.
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.
The conference also explored how people in the West—in particular, women parliamentarians--can support women in Afghanistan. Recommendations ranged from helping women build their own capacities as conflict mediators to rebuilding necessary infrastructure.
Margareta Cederfelt, an MP from Sweden, said that she and her counterparts can offer knowledge and help rebuilding civil society, but that perhaps the most immediate help they can offer is an e-mail address. She explained, “It’s hard to be a politician without a network.”
Nasim Zehra, a television journalist from Pakistan, said that there was a consensus for raising the accountability of the Afghan government toward women. She added: “ From our Afghan colleagues, there was the general feeling that it’s about time that there are less words and more action.”