Breaking down barriers

Republican speaker addresses women's involvement in Middle East politics

The traditional, long-standing barriers between women and the political process in the Middle East are gradually deteriorating, an activist and election instructor said Thursday night.

"What the women want is a better life for their children and themselves," said Henri-Karen Stone. "They're being challenged by an ultra-conservative society."

Stone, a Gypsum resident and an instructor on a non-partisan teaching team at the Regional Women's Campaign School in Kuwait City in September 2005, spoke to 15 people Thursday during a meeting of the Moffat County Republican Women's Club.

The club invited Stone to speak about her time developing grassroots democratic practices in the Middle East as a way to invigorate the political interests of local residents in an election year, club president Corrie Scott said.

Stone, who opened her presentation in the veiled, traditional garbs of Middle Eastern women, said the exclusion of women from the electoral process has been to the detriment of those societies.

"Fifty percent of the population is not represented," she said. "It just does not work very well if you only have one group making decisions for everybody. The participation of women in all regions of the Middle East is (crucial) to the progress of society."

Stone helped lobby for women's rights in the region and taught basic campaign strategies to women hoping to run for public office, or support a candidate running for public office.

"We did a lot of problem solving," she said. "It was interesting because these ladies were such quick learners."

Basic lessons included practices that are taken for granted in America, she said. Those lessons ranged from teaching women how to visit the homes of potential voters door to door while still conforming with a society that dictates they remain in the home, to those centering on the rule of law.

She drew on the old Arabic phrase, "He who is left standing will I follow," in explaining how some political rivalries are settled.

"In America, we call the person we're running against our opponent," she said, "not our enemy. We don't kill them. ... This is something I said time and time again. There can be no progress in society without the rule of law."

Stone visited Kuwait City under the Middle East Partnership Initiative, a program implemented by President Bush, in part, to empower women to vote and foster democracy.

The program also seeks to establish reform as a means to combat extremism and terrorism, Stone said.

Joshua Roberts can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or jroberts@craigdailypress.com.

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