Women demand 30% quota in nominations [Archives:2007/1105/Front Page]

November 22 2007

Rasha Jarhum
For Yemen Times

SANA'A, Nov. 20 ) A symbolic court verdict came out last Monday to oblige the President, Prime Minister, and Parliament to allocate a 30% quota for women's representation in the political sphere. The verdict stated that gender equality should be enforced, in line with a constitutional article that sanctions equality between men and women. Additionally, the verdict emphasized the importance of amending all discriminatory legislative provisions against women. Moreover, it urged the relevant parties to encourage women, help them become more involved in elections, and ensure that there is 30% quota for women in the national lists of all political parties' nominations in the 2009 Parliamentary elections. Furthermore, the verdict determined that female candidates should be economically empowered to participate effectively in the democratic process.

Standing up to listen to the national anthem during court proceedings had an empowering impact as it inaugurated the tribunal, which was set with the sole purpose to expose, condemn, and prosecute violations against female candidates during the past Parliamentary and Local Councils elections in 2003 and 2006 respectively.

“This court is meant to break a solid wall that has been blocking the lights of justice to shine upon us all. The idea of establishing a popular court is brilliant and we cannot claim that it is ours. The concept belongs to an international organization called The Advocacy based in Tunisia, founded by the greatest revolutionist in the past century, Nelson Mandela. Many popular courts have been conducted in many other countries and in the Arab world.” Amal Basha stated in her opening speech. She further stated exclusively to Yemen Times that, “This tribunal comes as part of our ongoing campaign to empower women in politics. It gives women a voice to repudiate female marginalization in political participation. Therefore, the main aims of the court are to highlight the low representation of females in the Parliament and Local Councils and shed light on the violations and breaches that female candidates were subject to due to the absence of justice.” She added, “We are, in general, prosecuting the election system that discriminates against women.”

The Studies and Research Center hall was organized to look like a court, which consisted of plaintiffs, defendants, judges, and witnesses, along with a public audience of more than 350 international and local participants.

The plaintiffs consisted of representatives from the Watan Coalition, Sisters Arab Forum (SAF), female and male human rights activists, with former female candidates as the victims. They were represented by attorneys Ahmed Al-Wade'e and Shatha Nasir. Additionally, discrimination, violence, family pressure, corruption, political parties' poor support, and the inferior perception towards women formed the set of violating offenders. Defending these were vice-chairperson Shawqi Al-Qadhi and lawyer Afra'a Hariri. At the witnesses stand stood the Democracy School, the Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights, the European Commission Elections Report, the National Democracy Institute (NDI), and seven former female candidates. Finally, the judges included lawyers Jamal Al-Gu'bi and Mae'en Sultan.

Witnesses took the stand one by one testifying against the ugly violations. Aishah Thawab, who ran in the 2006 elections as an independent in Hajjah, illustrated, “I have been subject to enormous harassment and violations. Shots were fired at voters by supporters of the GPC party candidate; my agents were beaten and removed from voting boxes by a witness of the Security Authority; the GPC Branch president threatened teachers who were supporting me, confiscated their salaries, and transferred them to remote schools; GPC supporters circulated rumors that I have illegally married more than once, that I am against the president, that I cooperate with U.S. and British organizations and will give them control of the country if I win, as with events in Iraq; additionally, the Supreme Election Commission Monitor [female] was forced to sign the final general result; voting boxes were stolen in most elections centers.” She further elaborated that she has discredited all these violations in court and that the case has been ongoing. Additionally, the elections results have still not come out for Center 260 in Abs District, Hajjah.

Nagat Al Sinwi, who ran in the 2006 elections in Taiz, reported similar violations. She stated that firearms were shot on the voting day, which led many voters to boycott. She further elaborated, “I was prohibited from conducting my own electoral campaigns; many fake names were added to the female voters list; some centers were closed early; my agents were kicked out of voting box committees; the process of counting was late in some centers; they threatened to confiscate the financial benefits of my poor supporters given to them by the Social Care Fund; and one of my brothers was suspended from work.”

Basharah Yehya, who ran in the 2006 elections in Ma'afer, reported a different violation. She stated that she was subject to violations from fellow female political party members. She claimed that, “female political members in elections committees pressured female voters to vote for their affiliated political party candidates.”

Mahfotha Al-Sefaf, who ran in the 2003 elections in Mahwit, testified about violations she was subjected to. She stated, “I was subject to many violations. Fake electoral IDs were made using children's names; the elections committees' members were substituted with others; in many centers, voting began the evening before the voting day; additionally, influential persons interrupted elections committees and requested that they vote for the GPC candidate.”

Ghaliyah Al-Basha ran in the 2006 elections in Dhamar. She was supposed to provide testimony during the symbolic court but was not called to the stand, although it was on the court agenda. She stated exclusively to the Yemen Times, “A public speech was delivered by a Parliament member stating that voting for a woman is shameful and instead the people should vote for the JMP Candidate.” She further added, “Voters were paid to vote for the other candidate; my agents were kicked out of elections committees; my working team was prevented from voting; closing of voting boxes was delayed until 10 pm due to an alleged unavailability of red wax; three voting boxes disappeared until 1:30 pm; one committee agent admitted that 150 votes were inserted in favor of the other candidate.”

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Bilqis Al-Lahbi, SAF Program Officer, stated to the Yemen Times, “This court is attempting to clearly identify the real reasons behind why female candidates are not elected, as well as to find a way to resolve these violations. The court is also an outlet for women's organizations, international and local human rights organizations, the media, diplomatic bodies, political parties, legislative makers, and to anyone interested in empowering women in the 2009 Parliament elections.”

The symbolic tribunal was organized by the Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF) and Watan Coalition, in cooperation with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The Watan Coalition was established in 2005 by mainly female activists to support female candidates in the 2006 Local Council Elections, and has been supported by Sheikh Hameed Al-Ahmar and Yehya Ali Salih.