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Afghan women MPs challenging attitudes

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Women make up 28% of the Afghan parliament 6% more than in the UK parliament yet theirs are the voices we almost never hear. Meg Munn MP had the opportunity to hear these voices at a recent conference organised by the East West Institute. It included Islamic women MPs from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tunisia, the Palestinian Authority and female German, British, Swedish and Belgian MPs and set out to explore challenges that women MPs face in Afghanistan, and to create opportunities for networking and support from other elected female politicians.


The Afghan women MPs spoke about the challenges they face: being isolated, subject to oppression, the difficulties of learning the role of parliamentarians and the uncertainty with threats from the Taliban to limit the rights of women. There is a 25% quota for women in the Afghan parliament, which creates a space for women to become politically active, but it still takes courage to run for office.


They receive little support from regional or national political parties, and suffer from a lack of ready support from male colleagues. It is not just the general perception that women should take a back seat, some women run for office against the express wishes of their families.  A lively debate took place on the attitudes they encounter and the Muslim women shared their experience of challenging attitudes that are often ascribed to Islam but in fact are cultural traditions. 


In parliament problems were expressed about how to be effective and better able to challenge the male domination of key roles, such as chairs of committees. How to win wider support for issues of concern to women was explored. It was noted that while Afghanistan has a national action programme for women to address inequality and discrimination no funding is allocated to implement it.


There was a strong desire to establish a forum for female Muslim MPs, with ideas emerging for a wider network of female MPs to create an opportunity to share experiences and provide advice on being effective in parliament. Most importantly the Afghan MPs asked that we lobby our governments to ensure that there is no support for reconciliation in Afghanistan which involves rolling back the rights of girls and women.


Meg commented:

"This was a valuable opportunity to hear first hand from women who are contributing to building democracy in Afghanistan and who seek to represent the interests of women and men. 

I hope this conference will lead to permanent networks of women MPs, both as a means of support but also to ensure that we continue to hear directly from women about their experience in Afghanistan.”

Associated Photograph :

Meg with Safia Siddique MP, Razia Sadat MP, Shagul Rezaie MP and Shinkai Karokhail MP

Meg with Safia Siddique MP, Razia Sadat MP, Shagul Rezaie MP and Shinkai Karokhail MP

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