AFP, March 5, 2010

‘Afghan women lawmakers hamstrung by warlords’

"We don't need 68 women who just sit in parliament. We would be better with 10 women who have strong voices there"

Afghan women may hold a quarter of the seats in their country's parliament but many are mere mouthpieces for warlords, who continue to set the legislative agenda, an Afghan women's rights activist said.

"Today we have 68 women in the parliament, 25 percent... We have a group of women high in quantity, but low in quality," Voice of Women director Suraya Pakzad told a meeting in the US Congress to mark International Women's Day.

Many of the women lawmakers in Afghanistan were elected with "the support of warlords" and now have to answer to those warlords, Pakzad said.

Malalai Joya (Afghan MP who was suspended): "I knew from the very first day in parliament that it is a meeting place for the worst enemies of the Afghan people. The majority are warlords, drug lords and human rights violators. The parliament in occupied Afghanistan is a show of democracy. It has not brought anything positive to the Afghan people in the past five years and it will not do anything for my people in future. They have only passed laws that are anti-democratic and anti-woman.
When I was in parliament, these brutal men and women gave me a hard time."
New Statesman, Jan. 31, 2010

"Those women don't have voices, they don't have the right to raise their voices. They have to have their mobile phone and call the warlord who supported them... and ask them whom they should vote for or not vote for," she said.

"We need quality women in parliament. We don't need 68 women who just sit in parliament. We would be better with 10 women who have strong voices there," she added.

Having a presence in parliament was one sign that Afghan women have come a long way since the fall of the repressive Taliban regime in 2001, Pakzad said.

But there was still a lot of ground to cover to ensure that all Afghan women enjoy basic human rights, she said.

The three million Afghan women who were widowed by 30 years of war need jobs to support their families, child marriage must be stopped, and there should be no more public floggings like two weeks ago, Pakzad said, when warlords had two women whipped for running away from abusive husbands.

Under the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, Afghan women were routinely beaten in public and even stoned to death for perceived breaches of Islamic law.

They were excluded from all public activities, including school, and could only leave home accompanied by a male relative.

Pakzad repeated a call for women to be included in any dialogue with the Taliban, whom President Hamid Karzai has said he wants to include in negotiations to bring peace to Afghanistan, which has been at war for most of the past three decades.

Pakzad set up Voices of Women in Afghanistan in 1998, teaching women to read under the noses of the Taliban.

Last year, Time Magazine named her one of the world's 100 most influential people.

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