Comparing Notes

U.S. State Legislators Share Strategies with International Women Parliamentarians

As part of the EastWest Institute’s efforts to empower women from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the greater MENA region, its Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention (PN) worked with the Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) to bring together international women legislators with U.S. women state legislators. Their meeting to enhance their “Partnership to Strengthen Women’s Political Empowerment and to Advance the Role of Women in Peace and Security” took place in Washington D.C. on September 29-October 2, 2013.

The partnership allowed the international participants to attend WAND’s biannual conference, “Women at the Tables of Power,” giving these women parliamentarians the opportunity to communicate with other women leaders from different backgrounds and experiences. This partnership began two years ago, with its first full-scale meeting in Ankara, Turkey, in April 2013.

Ana Sol Gutiérrez, House of Delegates, Maryland, U.S., said, “For me, our meeting in Turkey was a life-changing opportunity. By speaking directly with women parliamentarians from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco and Tunisia, I came to understand what they are living with every day. I was educated about these critical international issues and this exchange got me out of my box. I saw that we have similar challenges and our common human needs really struck me.”

In Washington, the group also took part in a variety of panel discussions and trainings: a seminar on the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and International Law led by Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, senior fellow at the MIT Center for International Studies; a debate on the Cost of War vs. The Cost of Living moderated by PN member Wisconsin State Senator Lena Taylor; and a Strategic and Capacity Building training led by Jamila Raqib, Executive Director of the Albert Einstein Institution.

The women legislators involved in the partnership also participated in a Q-and-A session with former Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer, which allowed for more detailed discussions on many of the topics addressed over the weekend. In addition, a teleconference with NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy Ambassador Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic gave the legislators the chance to discuss the Women, Peace and Security agenda at large as well as the role of NATO in Afghanistan. A major concern that was raised by legislators from all sides was the lack of conditionality of aid given to Afghanistan and the difficulty in holding their governments accountable.

In response, MIT’sAnderlini underscored why this group of women has to continue their efforts: “A network of women legislators globally working on these issues we are discussing is really important. The women need to know what is coming. These discussions [on foreign aid] are happening all the time. If we can make our own connections better we can hold governments more accountable.”

Many of the women felt that despite the government shutdown this week their meetings on Capitol Hill had a positive impact, as they were able to garner more interest in the Women, Peace and Security agenda in talking to their representatives from all parts of the country, both Democrats and Republicans.