On 4 April 2011, the EastWest Institute and the Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention released a report exploring how to bolster the role of Afghan women lawmakers. The report, A new voice for Afghan Women: Strengthening the Role of Women Lawmakers in Afghanistan, is based on concrete recommendations made by more than 70 leading lawmakers from Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Muslim countries, as well as representatives from Europe and the US, convened by EWI and the Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention at an international conference hosted by the European Parliament in December 2010.
“The conference was a rare chance for Afghan women politicians to tell their Western peers about the challenges they face,” said EWI’s Irina Bratosin, who wrote the report.
Those challenges are formidable: Ten years after the end of the Taliban regime, Afghan women can hold seats in parliament, but rarely take part in real decision making processes, particularly on peace and security. Without their participation in settlement talks with the Taliban, the report warns, women’s hard-won political rights could be “traded away”.
“We do not have political parties to support us, thus we still need the support of the international community in order to take our rightful place at the decision-making tables” said Shinkai Karokhail, a member of the Afghan Parliament’s lower house who attended the conference.
What can the international community do? Afghan women parliamentarians need immediate support – support that could be provided by an international network of lawmakers worldwide that should pressure coalition forces to protect women’s rights in the ongoing “reconciliation talks”. This would include a big role for women MPs from neighbouring Muslim countries, who can offer informed advice.
“The first time I met an Afghan female lawmaker was in Brussels. I didn't meet them in Islamabad, because our female colleagues are never part of visiting delegations” a Pakistani MP present pointed out.
For Karokhail, this overall effort is vital: “It is essential for women to have access to power and decision making positions, especially in a country like Afghanistan,” said Karokahail. “Otherwise, we will be easily overlooked by men and our achievements from the past ten years will be lost”.