NEW YORK - A noted American think-tank has presented the 2012 Leadership Award to leading Pakistani and Afghan women parliamentarians.

Fehmida Mirza, first woman speaker of Pakistan’s National Assembly, and Shinkai Karokhail, a women’s rights activist and member of the Afghan Parliament, received the leadership award for their inspiring records, according to a statement issued by the EastWest Institute (EWI). Japan’s Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba accepted the Institute’s International Peace Building Award on behalf of the Japanese people, who have provided critical economic and development assistance to Afghanistan.

The reception and dinner took place at the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York.

The EastWest Institute Board Chairman Ross Perot presented the awards to the parliamentarians. “We are proud that she has been personally instrumental to the success of our Parliamentarians Network and its Women, Peace and Security initiative. She is an inspiration to us all,” Perot said.

Shezreh Mirza, the award winner’s daughter, and Dr Donya Aziz, a prominent member of the National Assembly of Pakistan, accepted the award on behalf of Dr Mirza. Speaking of her mother’s firm belief in women’s empowerment, Mirza quoted her as saying: “Women don’t make war. They make peace. Women don’t take life. They give life.”

Mirza and Karokhail are the first recipients of the leadership award named for Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak. The wife of the late Sheikh Zayed of the United Arab Emirates founded the first UAE women’s organization in 1973: the Abu Dhabi Society for the Awakening of Women, the press release said.

These honourees are deeply involved in EWI’s Women, Peace and Security trust-building work in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it said. This awards dinner coincided with EWI’s release of Women, Peace and Security, a report on the first official visit of Pakistani women parliamentarians to Afghanistan.

EWI President John Mroz noted that the institute recognizes the role that women play on a global scale, not succumbing to a “policy community that is comfortable in its old ways.”

“There are few more important ways of instigating positive change in the world than the empowerment of women for heightened participation in political decision making including foreign and defence matters,” said Mroz. “Dr Mirza and Karokhail are groundbreaking, visionary leaders. Their leadership deserves to be recognized beyond their borders as a beacon of inspiration to others.” He added: “It is also a great honour to present the prestigious International Peace Building Award to the people of Japan.”