Sabrina Saqueb with Senator Jaffer

Sabrina Saqeb spoke at the University of Ottawa on October 22. Born in Afghanistan, Ms. Saqeb’s family fled to Iran as political refugees. She returned to Afghanistan as a young adult, eventually becoming the youngest elected Member of Parliament at the age of 25. I was also invited to speak at this event.

Ms. Saqeb talked about the fact that women need to be included in the development and peace process initiative in Afghanistan. Women are guaranteed equal rights in the Afghani constitution, and their presence has returned to the schools and workplace; however, the problem is the institutionalization of sexism. She argued that by strengthening women’s position in society and increasing the capacity of women at local and national levels, Afghanistan will be able to function properly as a legitimate and democratic society.

Ms. Saqeb is eloquent and passionate. She is also incredibly brave. In 2013 alone, two consecutive Ministry of Women’s Affairs chiefs were assassinated; a female parliamentarian was kidnapped by Taliban militants; and the vehicle envoy of a female Senator was ambushed, leading to the death of her 8 year old daughter. Ms. Saqeb went to work every day, travelling to the distant corners of her constituency to hear their concerns and speaking to men as their equal. In areas where men are considered to be more advanced than women, these actions put a bull’s eye over her head. This violence is unacceptable, and needs to change.

By working with female Afghani leaders like Ms. Saqeb, and by encouraging and supporting initiatives that support women’s rights, I believe we can build the capacity of the country to become a place where women are no longer targeted just because of their gender.