Woman leaders: apply quota [Archives:2005/845/Reportage]

May 26 2005

By Hamoud al-Hashimi
Yemen Times Staff

Al-Jazeera Center for Human Rights (JCHR) organized a symposium at the 21st Century Forum of the Yemen Times Establishment for Press and Publication which focused on Yemen after 15 years of democracy. Many Yemeni party representatives took part in the event.

At the beginning of the symposium, Dr. Bilqis Abu Usba', JCHR Director, said that after one and a half decades of Yemen's Reunification, there has been much democratic bustle. According to her, it was a period characterized by political plurality and expansion of NGOs.

Dr. Abu Usba', who is a professor at Sana'a University, further added that enhancing women's role in democracy would result in political and civil motion pushing forward the democratic process and reinforcing the status of the civil society.

Headed by Dr. Abdulaziz al-Shu'aibi, the first session of the symposium commenced with the speech of Yonus Haza', head of People's General Congress (PGC) Political Circle. He said that Yemen's three electoral experiences (parliamentary, local, presidential) drew the attention of the world. He criticized opposition parties which exploit the voices of the poor and needy to achieve political gains. He pointed out that some opposition parties are still propagating racism and localism that harm the national unity, consciousness of the generation, and the future of the democratic activity in the country.

Mohammed Qahtan, head of Islah's Political Circle, pointed out that democracy lives where society's authority prevails. “Democracy cannot be fostered in a state where the will of the society is overpowered,” he said.

He suggested a democratic dialogue between the opposition and the government..

In his speech, Abdul-Ghani Abdul-Qadir, head of Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) Political Circle, indicated that Yemen's laws provide for democracy but it is not practiced. According to him, this made citizens distrust the credibility of future orientations.

“The last 15 years represent a chance for learning, thinking and reflecting on Yemen's political and democratic future.”

He said that the YSP appreciates PGC's initiative he emphasized that it must take a real step to activate the quota system.

Mohammed al-Sabri, head of the Nasserite Public Unionist Organization's Political Circle, asked for reconsidering democracy-related legislatures.

“Democratic activity requires amendments to parties' law to give them a more free movement. The existing law has not been changed since 1990 and so has the Press Law,” he explained.

The second session, managed by Dr. Khadeeja al-Haisami, professor of political science at Sana'a University, Dean of the National Institute for Administrative Science, was devoted to women rights and democracy. Many heads of women circles in political parties participated.

Dr. Shafiqah Murshid of the YSP spoke about women's entitlements in the political parties and warned that unless these entitlements are ensured, “we would retreat in terms of democracy.”

On the other hand, Dr. Amat al-Razzaq Hummad, PGC, said that quota was resented by the mass of PGC woman members and therefore, quota elicited a response from the civil society and political parties.

Khadeeja al-Khatari, PGC, descried quota as a “temporary positive distinction system meant to activate women's role in the society.”

She added that there isn't enough time to tackle constitutional amendments. “Society has to allow women to participate. Otherwise, half of the society would be passive.”

She stated that the PGC has allotted 20% of its seats to women in next local council elections.

Dr. Amatassalam Raja, head of Islah's Women Sector, said, “Islah limited women participation to elections only. This is a sign of backwardness and traditionalism. Islah examined the issue in the light of Sharia but it is controversial among clerics.”

Surprisingly, she expressed Islah leaders' approval of women running for the Parliament in the coming elections. She suggested that 30% goes to women, 30% goes to men and the rest 40% set to compete between both sexes.

She said it is not obligatory to follow the opinion of Sheikh Abdul-Majeed al-Zandani, Chairman of Islah Shoura Council, regarding the establishment of a counterpart woman shoura council.

“Since we adopt democracy, he has the right to set forth his opinion,” she said.

The third session featured a number of interventions on political reform suggestions forwarded by main participants in the first session.

The first session had contained suggestions centered on political reform, democratic process, functions of political parties, State's function and women's participation in public institutions and decision-making positions.

Dr. Abdul-Majeed al-Mekhlafi classified ruling regimes into a) democratic and stable; b) unstable; and c) totalitarian

He said that high per capita income is a factor of stability for the developed political system.

“Stable income and living standard is reflected on overall stability.”

Beginning his speech, Dr. Adel al-Sharjabi suggested changing the title of the symposium into “Yemen after 15 years of seeking democracy.” He then expatiated on corruption manifestations that accompany the democratic process in public institutions, oppositon parties and NGOs.

Al-Sharjabi concluded his speech with a confession that there is a certain room for democracy in Yemen. Otherwise, “I could not have expressed what I did.”

To further democracy, Dr. Fuad al-Salahi suggested institutionalizing State's apparatuses, promoting the freedom of expression, bolstering women's participation in decision-making and exposition to changes.

Dr. Mohammed al-Dhaheri, professor of political science, said that members of the Yemeni society are still in the “social mobilization phase” especially women. He was in favor of enhancing productive organizational and employment capacities.

Sami Ghaleb, Editor-in-Chief of al-Nida Newspaper, called on the YSP to reconsider its views on women.

The YSP is theory is sophisticated but when it comes to practice, it, like other parties, contravenes its tenets.”

Bilqis al-Lahbi, social researcher, said there has to be laws for compulsory adult education as a prerequisite to democratic awareness and conduct.

Yemen's women called for forming alliances during elections and urged the people to elect their representatives, not in accordance with their force, but based on the appeal of their programs and visions.

Nabil al-Soufi, Editor of News Website, suggested to opposition parties to stop boasting about their achievements, be close to the people, stop chattering and be concerned with listening.

The concerened parties' elements have to improve the democratic address and organize such symposia at their parties' head-offices.”

He highlighted the following points essential to the democratic work:

Relationship of the military and security institution with the democratic transformation should be defined. This institution plays a very important national role.

Partisan organizations in general and the YSP in particular, which tries to reform the whole country while it can't reform its own affairs.

Education and its concepts passed on to generals. Education must be reconsidered and reassessed.

The symposium reached the following conclusions:

– It is necessary to objectively assess the democratic experience with special attention to elections, freedom of expression, freedom of organization, etc.

– It is important to start a government-opposition dialogue to create mutual understanding on difficulties and challenges facing the country so as to help adopt a comprehensive national reform project.

– Working on the achievement of a national reconciliation based on balance of social forces. This should help achieve strategic goals pursued by the country and help it avoid crises.

– Annual and legal amendments must be done in terms of quota and judicial autonomy and enhancement of women's participation in State's apparatuses.

– Parties, both in the government and opposition, should put into practice their programs pertaining to women's political participation in order for women to occupy a respectable social position.

– Parties should work to boost the culture of democracy based on toleration and the acceptance of the otherness to strengthen local democracy.

– Women, regardless of their political affiliations, should work together and create a public opinion to press on decision-makers and get their rights.

– Citizens should be given access to their political and civil liberties including presidential candidacy and possession of radio and TV stations.

– Working together to change the anti-woman traditional culture through educational curricula and media means.