Female activists threaten to boycott coming elections [Archives:2007/1084/Front Page]

September 10 2007

By: Rasha Jarhum
For Yemen Times

Political Parties rejected the Quota System as a solution to ensure women's representation in the elections. As a consequence female activists threatened to retaliate by withdrawing from coming elections as candidates, but most importantly as voters.

SANA'A, September 9 ) Yemeni women should not be influenced by western concepts, such as the quota system, and want to change their lives accordingly. This was the reaction of political parties to female activists demanding a quota of 30% in the coming parliamentary elections 2009. The debate was part of the Second Democracy Forum organized by Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights in cooperation with National Endowment Development. NGOs representatives and members of the Democracy Forum challenged the political parties' that as they used women as voters, they must allow them a chance through positive discrimination as candidates.

“Resolving women issues should not be based on a Western concept instead it should be based on Islamic values stemming from the Islamic history,” said Abdulwahab Al-Anisi, Secretary General of the Al-Islah conservative party. He stressed on rejecting the ideas coming from the west as they create ethical ciaos and referred to how the situation for western women is miserable supporting his argument with the statistics of harassment and rape in the western countries.

Frustrated by this attitude, Intisar Sinan, director of the political component of the Woman National Committee said: “This is not acceptable at all. Let us try the quota system and if it does not work we'll try something else.” She added that democracy as many other concepts have been adopted through western influence so why should the Quota System be any different.

Sultan Al-Atwani, Secretary General of the Nassirates Unionist warned Sinan that she should not feel frustrated from one meeting, and that it took men more than 50 Years and many failures to achieve what they have today.

He criticized the current electoral system stating that it does not allow women or even men to succeed. He elaborated that the individual constituency electoral system that is currently being followed is constraining men and women alike because the standards for selections are according to social standing and money and not based on the competency or the popularity of the candidate. Al-Atwani added it is important to amend the electoral system and apply the relative system instead.

Regarding the quota system he said: “This system will only limit women to closed electoral centers. A better alternative is to empower women and men by using the relative list system.” He also indicated that appointment of individuals in political positions should stem from the competency of the candidates regardless of gender. He added “the social context in Yemen does not allow women to compete in terms of communicating with people, for example, in Qat sessions which takes place in electoral constituencies. “

Similarly, although Abdul-Salam Al-Razaz, Assistant Secretary General of Popular Forces Union, started off in an optimistic tone saying: “We appose any discrimination against women, and we want women to reach everywhere. I don't even mind her becoming the president.” Yet, he then expressed his agreement with Mr Al-Atwani regarding the Quota issue.

However, Amal Al-Basha, director of SAF fired back asking representatives of the political parties what they have prepared in order to enhance women's political participation, since they dislike the quota system that much.

She noted that in 1997 Morocco was in the same situation as Yemen, however, Morocco, which is an Islamic country has already passed that and approved the quota system.

Tahani Al-Khaibah a member of the democratic forum in agreement with other female activists stated that if nothing is done by the political parties to prove their commitment to women as candidates, then they will launch a campaign to encourage women to boycott the coming elections both as voters and candidates. “They rely on women as voters to support their male candidates, but when it comes to what women want, there is no chance. We will get our forces together and prove to them our worth,” she said adamantly.

The percentage of women in the previous local council and presidential elections exceeded 40% of total voters, hence, they are a very strong factor in changing the demographics of electoral results.

Dr Mohammed Al-Thahiri, Director of Political Science department at Sana'a University indicated that there is a positive relationship between development and women's political participation. He suggested the Quota system as the only short-term solution to promote females as candidates without jeopardizing the political parties chances in the coming elections.

“I'm afraid political parties support of female candidates will decline in 2009 because these elections are significant in the playing a role in the presidential elections to take place in 2013. Political parties would not want to risk losing seats because of nominating women.” He said.

Shafiqah Saeed, member of Nassirates Union, and Khadigah Al-Khatry, member of the ruling party shared their experiences in the democratic process as candidates. Both women are members of the Women Partisan Network established in 2003 by NDI. The network aims to support women regardless of their political affiliation.

“One of the most important steps that WPN did last elections was meeting with all political parties and making them nominate female candidates. The Nassirates Union Party for example, nominated and supported 4 women. They even supported a fifth who ran as an independent candidate,” said Saeed.

Al-Khatry stated that the not many female candidates were nominated because of the internal conflicts within the party itself. This is why, in her opinion, a quota system is important.

Mohammed Al-Maqalih, Socialist Party Representative, talked about what he claims to be the political party's great encounters to empower women. According to him the socialist party was the first to appoint a woman in a high ranking position in the hierarchy of the organizational chart of the party. He also noted that SP was the first party to send letters to other political parties suggesting the assignment of particular constituencies to women in 2003, which was rejected by a letter from Dr Abdulkarim Al-Eriani on behalf of the ruling party at the time. Al-Maqalih then announced that his party is also against the quota system and called upon the relative list system and promised that if the system were approved, the first 5 names on it would be for women. He then indicated that the Yemeni women situation is much better than the situation for women in Gulf countries.

Nasir Al-Attar, Director of the Ruling Party GPC, also listed the victories of his party in relation to women issues. He stated that they believe in the role that women play in all aspects of life. However, he diplomatically rejected the Quota system by stating, “we believe in the Quota system and we are with any mechanism that empower women, but in one condition that all other parties commit to it as well.”

The only party that supported the Quota system was Al-Haq Party which. Mohammad Al-Mansour representing the party stated, “for the coming elections we will dedicate 15 percent for females to represent the party and we have no problem in following the Quota system.”