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Afghan MP (Member of Parliament) Shukria Barakzai

Afghan woman MP (Member of Parliament) Shukria Barakzai is a strong advocate for women’s rights in the region. Image: AFP

(WNN) Kabul, AFGHANISTAN, SOUTHERN ASIA: As transition in Afghanistan moves closer to an official announcement on the final vote results from the April 2013 Afghan presidential election that is due out in May, Jan Kubiš, head of the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA), recognizes the strong impact women in the region have made for the future of the country.

Especially as he met with women parliamentary members (MPs) from the Afghan National Assembly in the capital city of Kabul on Monday April 21, 2013.

“Women’s participation in national decision-making not only strengthens the representative nature of government institutions but is central to improved development and economic indicators,” said Kubiš who encouraged women to stay engaged in the political system as Afghanistan moves through transition.

Following the presidential elections those women who are working to represent their home regions in the Loya Jirga, also known as the Afghan National Assembly, remain steady in their commitment to see political and civil stability come and stay in Afghanistan, especially MP Shukria Barakzai who is a well known advocate for women’s rights inside the Afghan political system. MP Barakzai has also been an ardent critic of human rights abuse and corruption at leadership levels in the country, including current policies that continue to allow forced and early marriage in the region.

Key to MP Barakzai’s message is her drum-beat that Afghan women should stand up and not be afraid, in spite of the violence that still exists against them in the region,. The recent incidence in the shooting death of seasoned German-born Pulizer winning photojournalist Anja Neidrinhaus along with the shooting injury of Canadian journalist Kathy Gannon is a case in point. The two had worked together in Afghanistan numerous times before, but did not estimate that dangers for them were imminent as they entered the region that bordered Pakistan.

“The people are disgusted by the killing of innocents and foreign journalists…I say to all Afghans: do not be afraid of them. Afghanistan does not suffer from the Taliban alone, but also from the corruption that plagues everyday life. And that is why we need a new president who is able to establish security and peace in our country, and at the same time extend a hand to the poor and the marginalized and tackle the Taliban’s corruption,” she outlined recently in an interview with the popular Saudi owned daily news publication Asharq Al-Awsat on April 12.

In a congratulatory talk with Afghan women MPs, UNAMA head Jan Kubiš praised the women for their engaged participation in the recent election process. In spite

Kubiš also mentioned the strength of the women’s vote in Afghanistan as he encouraged all women stay firm at the decision making table to make sure all those elected into office will keep their electoral promises.

“Women’s participation in national decision-making not only strengthens the representative nature of government institutions but is central to improved development and economic indicators,” outlined Kubiš.

Working from her wisdom with on-the-ground experience, that include threats for her out-spoken statements, MP Barakzai has what it takes to make sure that election promises remain an important part of the public discussion in Afghanistan.

“Going forward, we will rely on our national forces not only to provide security during the election, but in everyday life as well. Yes, we must be vigilant against evil and corruption in the armed forces, but I do not think that the Taliban will return to power. I am confident of that. They had their chance in the 1990s. Even after foreign troops withdraw, we hope they will provide assistance and expertise to Afghan forces until they can take over entirely,” she continued.

Numerous women advocates in Afghanistan, despite the dangers, are working now to improve conditions for women and girls as tall hurdles continue to face women and girls each day in the region.

Not surprisingly as more women speak out, violence against women and girls in Afghanistan has actually risen markedly over the past year. in a comparison between 2012 and 2013 746 women’s casualties, including 235 women killed and 511 injured, show a 36 percent increase. A majority of the deaths have been caused by IEDs – Improvised Explosive Devices.

Child casualties, including both boys and girls, increased 34 percent in the last year as 1,756 casualties were reported with 561 children killed and 1,195 injured. IEDs were also a major contributor to both deaths and injuries in the region. 23 Taliban insurgency bombings on schools that have been considered to be ‘too Western’ in their approach, especially in educating girls, occurred in Afghanistan in 2012; but that same year 120 school bombings occurred in Pakistan, outlined the U.S. State Department.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Afghanistan is expected to announce the full preliminary results later this month after all election complaints have been investigated. The final results are expected to be released on May 14.

“Even the presidential candidates that did not talk about women’s issues still made promises to improve the quality of life for women in Afghanistan. We want to move forward and solve Afghanistan’s problems,” outlined MP Barakzai.

“There are many mujahideen [militant fundamentalists] elite who do not accept that we are working in the interests of the millions of women who have been denied their rights for many years. The former mujahideen do not want women to have a voice in opposition. They don’t want us to ask questions. The leaders of jihad have not grown to accept women’s right to play a part in public life, but times have changed. We must carry the voices of the women who were marginalized under the Taliban,” added the woman MP. “They [the Taliban] hate me, and they want to see me fall, but they will fail as they always have.,” she continued.

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