Quota: a key step to enhance women’s political participation [Archives:2008/1189/Opinion]

September 11 2008

By: Fatma Uqba
Since National Democratic Institute (NDI) began its operations in Yemen in 1993 as an international observer of that year's election and opened its office in Sana'a in 1997, the institute devoted the most important of its programs (Political Parties and Women Participation Program) to supporting Yemen's political parties.

It has been providing political and technical consultation and support for Yemeni parties with aim of achieving an effective and industrious participation for women in the women sectors of the major parties in Yemen that had notable representation at Parliament. These parties are: General People's Congress, Islah Party and Yemeni Socialist Party.

In 2004, heads (females) of women sectors at political parties involved in NDI's program signed “a Memorandum of Understanding” to establish the Women Network. Receiving lavish support from the parties involved, the network had branches in Aden, Taiz, Ibb, Hadramout, Hodeida, Lahj and Abyan,

This network was established with the specific aim of supporting women in political parties and providing NDI's support to them. NDI's support include training for women in the three mentioned parties, plus the Nasserite Unionist Popular Organization (an opposition party), which joined the Women Network in early 2005.

Regretfully, ahead of the local council elections in 2006, the Women Network faced numerous challenges, most important of which are the political parties being unserious about women's participation in politics and refraining from nominating women in 2006 local elections. This negatively impacted operations of the network in all the governorates.

The challenges that faced the network included women's nomination and how to nominate them and some parties' refusal to nominate women as they feared potential loss in constituencies where women represent them as candidates. Amid these challenges, many women activists in the network claimed approving a quota for Yemeni women like what is being applied in other Arab countries. The Quota claims faced great objections by political parities under the pretext there was no enough time while promises were made to apply women's quota in the parliamentary elections of 2009.

At this point, it has been made clear that Yemeni women wouldn't succeed in their political participation as candidates unless there is a constitution or law ensuring their suffrage to stand in the elections as candidates, like the way they were ensured the right to vote.

We would like to highlight that female voters accounted for more than 48 percent of the total number of voters in the most recent elections in September 2006. Their votes had been often exploited in favor of male candidates in rural and urban areas. Therefore, women turned to represent a bank of votes for men.

As long as approving a certain share (Quota) for Yemeni women in the elected bodies is not a new concept for Yemen, this concept is still ambiguous and unclear in the eye of many veteran politicians. There is a pressing need to clarify the meaning of “Quota” and its types, particularly following President Saleh's initiative in September 2007 in which he declared that 15 percent of Parliament seats will be designated for women.

Therefore, Political Parties and Women Participation Program at NDI conducted a study on Quota, its types and the possibility to apply it under the current election system in Yemen.

Women have less political rights than men

Based on Yemen's experience, plus international studies and declarations in this regard, Women are less able than men to obtain their rights, be it in businesses, decision making, or possession of resources. In addition, the political and electoral game is still male-dominated in its traditions, legislations, resources and mechanisms. This limits women's capacity to join this game under certain rules that ensure nepotism for influential forces.

As indicated above, women's capacity to hold political alliances within a man-dominated political game, which is often characterized by dishonesty, violence, night meetings, qat sessions and exploitation of private and public money, face challenges. Consequently, this reduces women's capability of nomination and competition with men.

To create multiple opportunities for women, the various international and Arab democratic communities used the system of “Affirmative Action. This means the design of programs and training activities to build capacities and skills. These communities also applied the Quota or women's shares in politics by giving them a certain share in the political bodies according to laws and institutions of states adopting this system.