Recently, a member of the Texas Star Alliance team had the opportunity to attend the panel discussion “Voices of Peace: A Conversation with Peacebuilders in Afghanistan and Pakistan” hosted by the Women’s Democracy Network and the George W. Bush Institute. Government affairs specialist Mia Hutchens sat in on the discussion, led by former First Lady Laura Bush and members of the International Republican Institute, as women from Afghanistan and Pakistan explained the struggles and successes of female political engagement in their respective countries.

Sameena Imtiaz of Pakistan and Mariam Safi of Afghanistan have played instrumental roles in the development of peaceful relations in their respective countries. In these nations, women’s’ rights can take a backseat to military action, religious extremism, and political unrest.  Imtiaz and Safi have successfully developed organizations that not only address violence and oppression, but also seek meaningful change through education and policy research.  The Peace Education and Development (PEAD) Foundation of Pakistan and the Organization for Policy Research and Development Studies (DROPS) of Afganistan are fostering environments that include women in the peace process starting at the community level.  Imtiaz, a first-hand witness to the destruction of terrorism, and Safi, an international peace studies student, both have poignant perspectives on the role of women in society and government and are utilizing their knowledge and power to create peace through theses organizations.

Through the support of global organizations, such as the Women’s Democracy Network, women are becoming increasingly involved in the political process in countries that have historically stifled their participation.  Starting at the grassroots level, resources such as leadership development, diplomacy education, media outreach, and economic empowerment are made available to the women who need it most in the nations where their voices are heard least. By educating and empowering these women, political landscapes are changing in nations that have been vastly dominated by male voices.

Mia was honored to take part in such a moving event.  The representatives from Afghanistan and Pakistan described stories of violence and unrest, but also progress and visions of peace.  In many instances, women in the Middle East are prevented from participating entirely in the political process and these countries, including many others, are making significant strides toward inclusivity and equal representation, and being witnesses to the discussion was certainly impactful for all who attended.