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Activists: Involving Women, Girls Early in Political Process Crucial

FILE - Egyptian women show their inked fingers after casting their votes at a polling station in Cairo.
FILE - Egyptian women show their inked fingers after casting their votes at a polling station in Cairo.

While there’s been some progress in the number of women in parliament in countries like Iraq (26 percent), Afghanistan (28 percent), East Timor (38 percent) and Rwanda (64 percent), many challenges remain as women are still trying to elbow their way to the table, said Jessica Huber from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems at a briefing Thursday on Capitol Hill.

When it comes to peace and security especially, it’s important to note there’s a critical link between conflict, sustainable peace and democracy. Involving women and girls early on in the process is crucial, said Huber.

“We can’t say… conflict has started, conflict has ended, here’s peace and here’s democracy. We know this is a murky continuum where we need to have women involved at the very beginning of this process,” she said.

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, serving Texas’ 18th congressional district since 1995, said when women run, participate and are civic minded, they shake and shape the world. But so many times when women are empowered, the institutions are threatened.

“Like Malala who was shot in the head because she wanted to go to school; like Hillary Clinton who’s running for president; like Benazir Bhutto who I became a strong friend of and was saddened by the tragedy that came when she was running for president of Pakistan,” said Lee.

Lee said people must join together to explain that each step made is a valuable step. Harvard University professor Pippa Norris said that while there are lots of barriers to women becoming empowered, it’s important to focus on the solutions. She argues for quotas, for example.

“What quotas do and what people have learned is that where there is a window of opportunity for reform through a constitution or through the law or within the party, then you can really give what we term fast-track policies... it’s been remarkable in some countries how successful it’s been by giving women a voice,” said Norris.

Some, however, say quotas are undemocratic and against the principle of equal opportunity because women are given preference over men.