Women, says female MP

Kabul, December 16, 2005 (AKI) - Under the Taliban, Afghan women suffered great restrictions. They were forced to wear the burqa and stay at home and were banned from getting an education. Four years after the fall of the hard line regime, the first Afghan parliament in more than 30 years will meet on Monday, and now 68 seats in the lower house have been reserved for women, giving Afghanistan one of the highest proportions of female parliamentarians in the world. "By being in a position of power, in this way we can also provide true and direct help to Afghan women," woman MP Shukria Barakzai, told Adnkronos International (AKI).

Barakzai, the 33-year-old mother of three girls, is aiming to head the new parliament, whose members gathered this week in the capital, Kabul, for an orientation course ahead of the legislature's inauguration next Monday.

During the Taliban regime, Barakzai, ran a secret school for girls in her Kabul home. Today, on top of being an MP, she is also the editor of a women's magazine called Aina-E-Zan (Women's Mirror). "I am responsible for the women, to ensure that they have good laws and create positive discrimination for women," said Barakzai.

Barakzai said she has met former members of the Taliban who are now in parliament, such as one from the province of Zabul who asked her to translate what he had said in Pashto to English when he spoke to the media. "It was very interesting for me," said the magazine editor who also speaks the two main Afghan languages Pashto and Dari as well as English, French, and Urdu. "They seem to really want to join and add to the peace process."

If she manages to secure the position of leading the parliament, Barakzai said that she hopes that in this way it would inspire more men to respect women. "It will be good for them to look at women of power to see that there can be positive changes for women."

The parliamentary elections did not have any political parties and every candidate ran as an independent. Barakzai has already started lobbying other assembly members for support under two different factions - the reformist, made up technocrats who are not really conservatives and another faction of women.

It has not been an easy road for this female member of the legislature. Once she announced her candidacy in the parliamentary elections, she was attacked in the provinces, threatened on the phone, and through email. "But when you want to fight for something, that's normal to do. I am not afraid," she said. Her only concern has been for her children, who she wishes she could see more often. "It is difficult to deal with time," said Barakzai whose husband also helps with her various roles. "I am working hard but it is for the future of my children and for Afghan children."