The International Republican Institute (IRI) hosted women leaders from 25 countries in North America, Europe and the broader Middle East at the Leading Change: Women and Democracy’s New Frontiers conference in Istanbul, Turkey from March 23-25.  The conference brought together current and former government ministers, members of parliament, senior party leaders and civic activists to addressed fundamental questions confronting the change to democracy in societies bound by Islamic law and custom.

“This was one of the best leadership conferences,” said Rafiah Al-Talei, editor-in-chief of Almara magazine in Oman and a nongovernmental organization activist.  “We’ve never been to a forum together with so many of our colleagues from Europe…it was an important opportunity to explain…that democracy is possible in our countries.  It is not about our religion; it’s about our regimes.”

In drawing together accomplished women’s leadership from the broader Middle East and Europe, the event was one of the first of its kind.  Speakers included Roselyne Bachelot, former Minister of Environment of France and Member of the European Parliament; Ewa Bjorling, Member of Parliament of Sweden; Bahia Hariri, Member of Parliament of Lebanon and sister of the slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri; Nadezhda Mihaylova, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria and Vice President of the European People’s Party; Constance Berry Newman, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs; and Rukhsana Zuberi, Senator from Pakistan.

As part of IRI’s initiatives promoting women’s leadership in politics, the Istanbul conference follows on the launch of IRI’s Women’s Democracy Network in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, an effort to foster relationships among women leaders from around the world, providing them with opportunities to share experiences and develop the skills needed for professional advancement.

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