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Our blog provides an international platform to promote women’s political empowerment. Mina's List believes in fostering a sense of solidarity as we support women's increased political representation around the globe. Submit a blog post about you or your organization's projects.

Fighting for Empowerment: Under Taliban Rule & Beyond

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by Manizha Baraki, Mina’s List Program Intern

Hello Mina’s List’s blog followers! My name is Manizha Baraki. I am a current MA/Sustainable International Development student at the Heller School of Brandeis University. I am from Afghanistan and I just joined Mina’s List as an intern. The reason I want to do my second year graduate program practicum with Mina’s List is because I truly believe in Mina’s List’s approach to women’s political empowerment.

The recent incidents in Kunduz province made me think about what girls and women went through when the Taliban was ruling Afghanistan 14 years ago. When I was going to school secretly during the Taliban regime, I never imagined that I would even graduate from high school. Look where I am now! Women as decision makers and leaders have played an important role in what I have achieved in my life today. I think my story is the story of every other girl and woman who has managed to continue her education during the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and afterwards.

I was in the second grade of school when the Taliban occupied Afghanistan. They banned girls from going to school right away. As a result, I could have remained illiterate for the rest of my life. What helped me stay connected to education was my mom’s continuous encouragement to study with my brothers at home. After two years of the Taliban regime, the hope of going to school started to seem too unrealistic for me and other girls around me. Our light of hope was women who started schools in their homes, secretly. It was not an easy job for them as I recall now. They could have been caught by the Taliban anytime, and recorded cruelty of the Taliban is enough to predict what would have been punishment for these women.

My teachers never showed any fear while they were teaching us. What I clearly remember is one of my teachers saying “if the Taliban finds out about the school and you find the school closed one day, don’t give up.” Fortunately, the Taliban never found out about my secret home-based school. The words of my teacher are still with me and give me courage to fight and not give up when I find barriers in my way.

My story not only illustrates women’s willingness but also their courage to help other women when they need help. As women, my teachers knew what life would look like for an illiterate woman in the society that we lived in. They were concerned and they were doing something about it. illiteracy is the root of many other women’s issues. An illiterate woman is dependent on her male family members and others in Afghanistan. Another consequence of girl’s illiteracy is child marriage, which leads to many other women’s problems. The chances of early marriage are higher among illiterate women.

Since then, I have realized that when women are given higher positions that allow them more authority like political leadership positions, there is higher possibility that these women will advocate for women’s rights. It is easier for women to understand the needs of other women because they have seen and felt what women experience. Parliament is the place where problems are discussed and more importantly laws and policies approved. We need more women to be a part of this process. Currently, 27% of the lower house of parliament in Afghanistan is made up of women, which is not enough to represent the different groups of women all over the country. Women are 51% of the population in Afghanistan. More women are needed in political positions to substantively represent the needs of half the population in the country. 

I am excited to be part of Mina’s List’s efforts to help increase women’s equal and substantive participation in national governments around the world.

We Don’t Need Another Sarah Palin

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by Sana Johnson, Communications Intern, Mina’s List

Around the world, women continue to face obstacles that inhibit their equal participation in the social, economic, and political spheres. Increasing the rates of female political participation is crucial to achieving gender parity, but breaking the glass ceiling requires a twofold solution. In addition to women’s equal (50%) representation in national government, we need women political leaders who are willing and able to address the issues that are most relevant to women. This is why Mina’s List calls for women’s equal and substantive political representation. We need empowered women in national governments. We don’t need another Sarah Palin. 

For a woman’s political participation to be substantive, she must advocate for policies that attempt to close the opportunity gaps between men and women. We believe that by working with in-country women’s rights organizations and current female legislators, ML can provide aspiring women political leaders the tools necessary to effectively participate in legislative positions. This capacity-building is what ML means by empowerment, and is the key to securing equal rights for women.

While research has shown that women’s political participation can raise the standard of living for all, we need our leaders to address the specific areas that most impact women. Issues such as poverty, illiteracy, disappearing social safety nets, and lack of access to clean water require the substantive representation of women political leaders to address them in a meaningful way. The areas of peace-building and conflict resolution also require legislation that supports women in particular. It has become general knowledge that war disproportionately affects women. The use of rape, sexual slavery, and forced pregnancy as war tactics has grown tremendously. To improve the status of women, female political leaders must have the determination and capacity to advocate for women in these areas. The presence of more women at the table does not necessarily beget change, however the participation of more empowered female decision-makers does.

Evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of women’s substantive political participation is overwhelming. For example, figures show that as the percentage of women legislators increases by 10 percent, countries are about 10 percent more likely to adopt legal protections against domestic violence and sexual harassment. In Argentina, female parliamentarians represent only 14 percent of deputies but introduced 78 percent of the bills related to women’s rights. These gains are the result of empowered women’s leadership.

Mina’s List is committed to giving aspiring women political leaders the power they need to advance women’s rights. Now is the time to capitalize on the current global increase of women in politics. Women deserve to have representatives who will drive their issues forward, and we all deserve to enjoy what women parliamentarians contribute to the world.

Feminism: What it is and what it isn’t

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by Devin Cowick, Executive Assistant, Mina’s List  

Here at Mina’s List, we support feminist political leaders, and aim to help more of such women obtain positions in national government. But what does it mean to be a feminist political leader? Or even simply a feminist? In her article– The biggest threat to feminism? It’s not just the patriarchy– Finn Mackay explains both what feminism is, and what it is not

“Feminism is a global, political movement for the liberation of women and society, based on equality for all people,” states Mackay. “There is so much wrong with the present system that that we can’t just tinker round the edges, we need to start again; our end point cannot be equality in an unequal world. This is also the reason why feminism is not struggling to simply reverse the present power relationship and put women in charge instead of men (though this is a common myth about feminist politics). Feminism is about change, not a changing of the guard.”

Mackay continues on the vein of what feminism is not by addressing a new concept called ‘choice feminism.’ According to Mackay, “there is an attempt, unfortunately fairly successful, to reduce feminism to simply being the right for women to make choices.” Mackay goes on to reveal the nature of these choices. She writes that these choices are not about “whether to stand for parliament” or “instigate pay transparency in the office,” but rather “what amount of makeup to wear” or “whether or not to make the first move with a man.” This is not feminism. It is not what women’s empowerment looks like. 

An empowered woman has agency and control over her own life. She has secured equal access to the social, economic, and political spheres. Speaking of the political, an empowered (feminist) woman political leader is both willing and able to advocate for women’s interests in the political sphere. Sound familiar? It should, this is what we refer to as substantive representation, as in– Mina’s List seeks to achieve women’s equal and substantive representation in national governments worldwide. 

Read more at TheGuardian.

The Smart Thing To Do

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by Dr. Sophie Nakueira, Mina’s List Advisory Board Member and Researcher for The Global Risk Governance Programme, University of Cape Town

In this day and age, having to explain why women’s equal and substantive representation in national governments is so important is absurd. It is absurd because in 2015, we as humans have proved to be much smarter than our ancestors before us. A superficial account of this smartness is evidenced by the plethora of smart hi-tech toys (from smart phones to smart houses and smart cars) that we have invented to simplify our lives as we go about our daily tasks. Yet ironically, when it comes to governing our countries, we have repeatedly failed (with notable exceptions) to include a representative number of women in national governments. In doing so, we have failed to do the smart thing.

The term ‘governance’, as I understand it, is distinct from ‘government’. The term governance is conceptualized as the ways in which actors can shape or influence events to achieve desired ends. Thus, with this understanding, if we have an equal and substantive representation of women in national governments, we can reasonably expect that if they are endowed with the right resources, they can shape the ‘flow of events’ in ways that can influence desired outcomes. Thus not only would this amount to good governance (considering that gender equality is an inherent part of human rights), it would also result in smart governance because the rights and interests of a large demographic would be represented in national governments.

Today we live in a world of increasing inter-dependencies between governments, and therefore can no longer afford to ignore the rights of a certain demographic while promoting the rights of another. Consciously or not, by ignoring the under-representation of women in national governments, we run the risk of exacerbating the marginalization of already vulnerable groups around issues such as equal pay, equal access to poverty, and equal access to justice. Therefore, ensuring that there is an equal and substantive representation in national governments is not just important, it is the smart thing to do.

Women’s Forum Myanmar 2014

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by Tanya Henderson, Founder & Executive Director, Mina’s List

Achieving gender equality is among the many challenges Myanmar must face during its democratic transition, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi told an international women’s forum in Nay Pyi Taw on December 5.

Delivering the keynote address at the second Women’s Forum Myanmar, she deplored the low percentage of women parliamentarians in Myanmar, saying it was the lowest of any member country of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“We need to promote the participation of women in politics, not for the sake of statistics, not just to say that we have so many MPs in the legislature and so many women ministers, but because we need to give more to the process of democratization,” Aung San Suu Kyi said.

In alignment with the Hon. Aung San Suu Kyi, Mina’s List recognizes the essential need for women’s equal (50%) and substantive political representation. Substantive Representation means that women’s interests and rights are actually advocated for in our legislative bodies. Proponents of substantive representation argue that numerical representation is not enough. Getting more women elected to office in only the first step in ensuring that women’s interests are fully represented.

Read more about the 2014 Women’s Forum in Myanmar at Mizzima: News from Myanmar.

CEDAW Quick & Concise: Explaining the Principle of Substantive Equality

Why does Mina’s List call for women’s equal (50%) and substantive political representation? Watch this fantastic video explaining why both are needed to ensure women’s political empowerment globally!

Mina’s List Official Launch Party

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Click here to view photos from the event.

On the evening of Tuesday, December 2nd, Mina’s List: Empowering Women’s Political Leadership Globally hosted its first official launch party in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Over 50 individuals representing diverse sectors of society - from non-profit leaders and entrepreneurs to academics, lawyers, and government officials - joined to celebrate the beginning of this exciting new non-profit. Guests enjoyed an authentic Afghan meal in honor of Mina’s List first Pilot Program to support more women’s representation in Afghanistan’s 2015 Parliamentary elections. Founder and Executive Director Tanya Henderson - an international attorney and gender expert - outlined what Mina’s List is all about: achieving women’s equal and substantive political representation in national governments around the world.

Most agree that women remain significantly underrepresented in politics, particularly considering that 50% of the world’s population make up less than 20% of the world’s parliamentary seats. From a misogynist sociopolitical climate to a lack of relevant networks, women face a number of unique challenges to attaining political office. Even when women are successful in rising to political leadership, they may lack the expertise or awareness to effectively advance women’s interests in the political arena. Still, research consistently shows that governments with higher percentages of female legislators introduce more laws to promote human rights, women’s rights, and the welfare of girls. Furthermore, when women are empowered as political leaders, countries experience higher standards of living and tangible gains in democratic governance. Through partnerships with in-country women’s organizations, Mina’s List will provide aspiring women leaders with the tools and resources required to overcome such obstacles to political empowerment.

The keynote speaker for Mina’s List launch was Justine Mbabazi, an international lawyer with over 20 years in international law and development. Her work in post-conflict countries such as Rwanda, Afghanistan, and South Sudan has helped these countries achieve some of the highest percentages of women in decision-making roles in the world. During her keynote speech, Justine detailed how she worked with people from the highest levels of government to the smallest rural village to place women’s interests at the forefront of discussion in each country. In Rwanda, she trained police officers and local leaders on the rights of women and children and how to protect them. Justine has also mentored more than 1,000 women around the world, as she believes mentorship is one of the most effective long-term methods of empowerment.

Justine Mbabazi is living proof of the importance of Mina’s List work and what women can accomplish when empowered as leaders. In Justine’s own words, “Mina’s List is already a fabulous success, and it’s reflected in the people who attended the launch. You could see it in their eyes. They came with open hearts and minds, ready to help make the Mina’s List vision a reality.”

Can Women Make the World More Peaceful?

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By Tanya Henderson Esq., Founder and Executive Director, Mina’s List

In a recent article posted in The Guardian, entitled “Can Women Make the World More Peaceful,” Leymah Gbowee and fellow activists won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for their work promoting peace in Liberia.

Researcher and author Laurel Stone found that ensuring women’s empowered political representation in national governments was key to ensuring long-term peace. Through her research analyzing the role of women in conflict prevention and peace building, Ms. Stone found that women have a positive and significant impact on peace. Results showed that women’s participation in peace negotiations increases the probability of violence ending within a year by 24%.

However, Ms. Stone’s research further showed that including women in peace processes must be accompanied by the institutionalization of gender equality once the violence has ended, and asserts that this can be accomplished by having women’s substantive political representation in national governments. For instance, she found that implementing gender quotas for national legislatures could increase the probability of violence ending within five years by 27%. Thus, lasting peace requires women at the decision-making tables in both times of conflict and in times of (relative) peace. And this is just what Mina’s List aims to achieve.

Thank you Laura, for this important contribution!

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