Discriminative legislation hinders women’s political participation [Archives:2008/1134/Local News]

March 3 2008

Rasha Jarhum
For Yemen Times

SANA'A, March 1 ) The Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF) organized the fourth Democratic Forum on Thursday. In line with a series of forums that SAF has organized to improve political participation of women, the forum discussed the legislative challenges that hinder women's political participation, as an effort to lobby Ministerial council and mobilize the media and civil society to approve the 15 percent quota for women's representation in political parties that was not approved last week by the Ministerial Council within the group of amendments that the Woman National Committee proposed.

Chairing the forum was Maha Awadh, Program Coordinator of the Women's National Committee, Parliament member Abdulbary Dughaish, and journalist Muna Safwan. More than 60 participants representing the media, different NGOs and CSOs attended.

Awadh presented a paper on the legislative challenges and the proposed amendments to enhance women's political participation. She explained that there is a reflective mutual relation between social, cultural, economical and political institutions and structures, as well as society's perception towards women, with the legislative laws. She further illustrated that the absence of women participation in writing legislation, and their exclusion in laws, which refer only to men, make them servants to the vision and interest of men. Awadh further explained that the structure of legislature, even with its variations to consider women's interests, in fact reflects the equality of duties and responsibilities, starting at the constitution in addressing citizens, both men and women, as article 41 reads, “All citizens are equal in general duties and responsibilities.”

She also indicated that the constitution also refers to partnership participation in organizing the rights and duties for men and women; however, the reference to the organization of women's rights and duties is, as stated in the constitution, based on sharia,or Islamic law. She expressed her confidence in sharia, and elaborated that it has given women a high status and ensured her full human rights. However, she questioned whether human factors were considered in the legislative efforts or whether it was subject to the influence of Yemen's inherited customs and traditions to overcome the Islamic legislation that supports women.

Moreover, Awadh noted that there is another discourse to the principle of equality in rights and duties which was used in the constitution and created an obstacle for its disclosure. She claimed that this is evident in Article 107, which addresses men only, stating ” ot married to a foreigner (female wife) and shall not get married while serving in his presidency term from a foreigner (female wife)”, indicating that there is a specific limit/glass ceiling to women's political rights.

She elaborated that Article 61 of the Civil Law enhances the stereotypes of gender roles when it states ” he girl should look after domestic responsibilities.” Additionally, Article 42 of 1994 Ministerial Decree 12, on crime and punishment, sets the penalty for accidentally killing a woman at half that of killing a man, revealing a gender gap and unequal citizenship between men and women. Furthermore, Article 3 of Law 6 in 1990, regarding nationality, indicating that Yemeni nationality will be granted to someone whose “father” is Yemeni. Awadh claimed that such discriminative law statements enhance discrimination against women and establish more obstacles that impact their status in society.

Referring to the laws that directly hinder women's political participation, Awadh explained that Article 7 of the General Elections Law is one of the most important articles empowering women's political participation as voters; however, a similar article to enhance women's political participation as candidates does not exist. Additionally, she pointed to Article 58 of the Political Parties and Institutions Law, which obligates potential candidates to be approved by a party chairperson or high official, has a negative impact on women's candidacies, as the social environment does not allow an equal opportunity for competition and hence women are considered as a losing card, discouraging political parties or institutions to put forward female nominations. Awadh further emphasized that the electoral system, based on the individual constituency, does not serve both men and women.

Additionally, Dughaish presented a paper on Parliament's role to approve and enforce law amendments relevant to women. He presented the implementation model of the Safe Motherhood Law, acknowledging the huge and honest role of the governmental mechanism to women's development – the Woman National Committee – and the advocacy of women's rights in the Legislative Council.

The forum concluded with a set of important recommendations, including intensifying pressure mechanisms to lobby for the legislative amendments, continuing the dialogue to approve a 15% quota for women in political parties, and supporting and coordinating partnership efforts between all the supporting women mechanisms to promote female candidacy and increase the number of women in decision-making positions. Additionally, recommendations were made to encourage the role of women's organizations in providing capacity building to women in political work, raising awareness of a woman's role and status in society to change behaviors and practices that reflect inferiority, raising awareness among women on their legislative rights and how to obtain legal protection, and involving women and women's organizations when writing and discussing parliamentary laws.