Full political participation of women has to be achieved [Archives:2006/1003/Front Page]

November 30 2006

By: Khalil Al-Khaubari
A documentation on female candidates' stories lead by the Yemen Times, and a lobbying Initiative with wives of decision makers lead by the Women National Committee were the outcomes of the seminar on women political participation last week.

SANA'A, Nov. 25 ) Women are struggling to gain a better political position and exercise their citizenship rights. Their struggle was vividly noticed during the recent elections when female candidates were discriminated against, threatened and not supported to say the least.

The National Women Committee, Integrity Bridges for Social Development and the Yemen Times jointly held a symposium Sunday to discuss women's political participation, especially in the most recent local elections, and how they can overcome obstacles hindering their participation in political life.

In a speech, Integrity Bridges Executive Director Donna Kennedy-Glans congratulated Yemeni women for the last elections and called on them to be stronger in their battle to exercise their rights.

“The electoral process is heated in any country and people throw about criticism and negative comments. We do the same in Canada, but now you've passed the elections and you should think of what you would be doing next.” Kennedy-Glans stated.

She insisted women struggle for their rights – even creating her own new idiom: Gender jihad.

“You are struggling to develop a female presence in politics and I provocatively call it gender jihad,” she explained. “The struggle we have inside the big jihad is to balance or harmonize relationships between men and women in all parts of our lives, including politics.”

Kennedy-Glans then went on to compare women's political situations in Canada and Yemen.

“In Canada, since the first election in 1921 wherein women could run for office, which is a long time – decades – 3,400 women candidates have stood in 39 elections and only won 426 times. Only one female prime minister has held one term in office, which is the shortest of any prime minister in Canada. It was impressive, but I wasn't happy with it.

“At the close of the 2006 nominations, we had federal elections. There were 380 women and 1,200 men among the 1,600 candidates confirmed by our government. Women represented 23 percent of the total candidates, which I think is an awful statistic.”

Concluding her speech, Kennedy-Glans stated, “There are no legal obstacles stopping women from running for politics in Canada or Yemen. We all know we have rights, but the problem is the number of women running for office or those who are winning isn't increasing, rather, it's in decline.”

Rasheeda Al-Hamdani chairperson of the Women National Committee told her exciting story about her struggle to gain office of Sana'a Governorate in the recent elections. She was one of the female candidates competing in a tribal region during the local council elections. Al-Hamdani highlighted the obstacles and difficulties she faced.

“Although I wasn't welcomed by the tribal sheikhs and influential persons, I prepared an electoral program and the society read my program,” she explained. “I visited a number of villages and talked to people at their sessions.”

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Al-Hamdani was surprised at the end of the electoral process, saying men instead of women were voting for her, especially educated ones. “Although I lost the office, I think I established democracy in people's minds,” she concluded.

Yemeni political life recently witnessed a huge action on the level of women's political issues. Many demonstrations were organized and a lot of talks were held to promote women's political positions and encourage female nominations.

But there were a lot of struggles for women in the elections.

“We documented all of the violations against women. We also met political parties and requested their support in the last elections. Additionally, we supported independent candidates with YR 100,000 each,” said Suha Ba Shareen from the Watan Coalition.

Concerning obstacles standing before women in their struggle for their political rights and the solutions to such obstacles, Husniya Al-Qadri said, “The position of women is frustrating and without help from the political parties, women's positions won't improve. We should have a quiet and logical dialogue with the parties. We also should gain the support of men.

Al-Qadri is hoping that support will come through dialogue.

“If we break down the cultural silence within our society and fruitfully talk with the parties, we'll see competitive female Members of Parliament in the next election,” she said. “Women should be distinguished in their work so they will reflect a nice picture of themselves in society's eyes.”

The symposium recommended a meeting with leaders' wives to discuss women's Issues and try and gain the leaders support through their wives the Women National Committee committed themselves to this initiative. It also recommended publishing a book illustrating the stories of women who ventured in political life and stood as candidates in previous elections, a publication which will be lead by Yemen Times.