print
memri
September 29, 2016 No.
6633

Criticism In Jordan, Palestinian Authority Over Marginalization Of Women In Public And Political Arenas

In Jordan's September 20, 2016 elections for its 130-member House of Representatives - the lower house of parliament[1] - 20 women were elected, comprising approximately 15% of seats.[2] Additionally, Palestinian Authority (PA) municipal elections were to take place held on October 8, 2016, but the Palestinian high court ordered them postponed until further notice, following an appeal for the disqualification of five candidate lists.[3]

One of the main issues in the public debate on the elections in both the Jordanian and Palestinian media was the marginalization of women in public life, and, particularly, in political life. Both countries' presses featured articles and editorials criticizing the discrimination and cultural obstacles faced by women who wish to run for office; this criticism was also voiced by women candidates in both Jordan and in the PA.

It should be noted in this context that both Jordan and the PA have quotas for women in parliament and municipal councils. Jordan sets aside 12% of its parliamentary seats for women, while the PA reserves 20%. However, according to both writers and women candidates, the quotas have proven ineffective in changing women's status in politics.

This report will review several articles and editorials on this issue.

In Run-Up To Jordanian House Of Representatives Elections, Criticism Of Limitations Women Face In Politics

Editor Of Jordanian Daily: Gender Gap Reveals Extent Of Marginalization Of Women

The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report, published in late 2015, ranked Jordan 140th of the 145 countries reviewed; the previous year it had been ranked 134th of 142 countries.[4] In light of Jordan's poor showing, Jumana Ghanimat, editor-in-chief of the Jordanian daily Al-Ghad wrote on July 28, 2016: "Thus, the flaws and [gender] gaps, or more accurately, exposed, in all their shame, on both the political and economic levels are revealed, [showing that] women's empowerment in politics remains limited. Even the quota for women in elected bodies, in place for two decades, could neither change the stereotype of women nor bring about greater women's representation, particularly in parliamentary activity. [Women's] participation in government still remains relatively discretionary, and can change from one prime minister to the next... According to the statistics in the Global Gender Gap Report, for every 100 men in parliament, there are only 14 women, and for every 100 male ministers, there are only 13 women [ministers]."[5]

Former Minister: Marginalizing Women In Public Arena Makes Elections A "Show Of Masculinity"

In a September 2, 2016 article titled "No Women Allowed," former Jordanian culture minister Sabri Al-Rbeihat addressed the marginalization of women in the public arena that hampers them in running for office: "Over four decades ago, the Jordanian woman gained the right to vote. This was a turning point in the social perception regarding her roles and status, and the start of the journey to remove the obstacles to her [full] participation in public life and the creation of a future...

"[However,] today women still hesitate to enter the public arena or to reach out to [male] voters without stressing that she is not their rival. Many social gatherings and activities... lack the presence of women, who are banned from attending them. Extensive attempts to motivate women to run for office and to increase women's representation in parliament have done little to change their role or how they are viewed in local communities. The dozens of women running in the parliamentary elections encounter immense difficulties, when their photos are published or when they attempt to reach out to men in their local communities to explain their ideas, views, and platforms. In some locations and voting districts, election rallies have no female presence [at all], making the elections a kind of show of masculinity, with women in a supporting role according to male dictates."[6]

Jordanian Writer: The Dominant Culture Considers Women Inferior; Some Women Are More Qualified Than Men - But This Does Them Little Good

Senior Al-Ghad writer Fahd Al-Khitan also discussed the sociocultural obstacles women face when they run for office: "Two hundred and fifty-two of the 1,269 candidates in the elections... are women. As you know, they have a permanent quota in parliament, and have been allocated 15 of the 130 seats...

"The dominant culture accords women lower status than men. Except for a very few cases, women cannot break through the culture of prejudice and discrimination... Among the candidates are women many times more qualified than the male candidates. But this does them little good due to cultural factors. Even women voters rarely support them; when they go to vote, they follow the widespread view [that men are better suited], either because they believe it, or under the influence of men.

"Another factor that lessens women's chances of being elected is the small number of charismatic women - what we call 'stars' - in both in the political and social arenas. Only three or four candidates in the current elections meet this definition... The problem is that these 'stars' are all candidates in the same area, 'Amman. While one of them will receive a seat allocated to women [under the quota], the others must actually be elected. This will undoubtedly be difficult, considering the power and influence of the male candidates and the number of voters in the capital's electoral districts...

"We should give Jordanian women credit for their lively participation in the election [process] despite all the social and cultural difficulties that they face. The state should reward them and expand the quota [of women in parliament], even at the expense of men. Only the Jordanian state can smash this outdated culture and give justice to women."[7]

Woman Candidate: Jordanian Leadership Aims To Empower Women - But Is Thwarted By Negative Societal Attitudes

In an August 14, 2016 article in the Al-Rai daily, Rehab Al-Qaddoumi, who was a candidate from the Jordanian National Front Party, wrote about the gap between the official establishment position encouraging women to enter the public sphere and political life and society's attitudes about this: "King Abdullah's power of appointment to the government stressed the need for supporting women's advancement and for tackling the challenges they face in their path to the status that they deserve, in order to further [Jordan's] development... Despite the significant progress in women's participation in public life in various fields, which have seen in recent years, [this progress] has not yet reached [the level] to which we aspire... If women are no longer perceived negatively, and there are no more questions about their ability to participate in political life, to work, to contribute, and to excel, then they can play a role that complements, or [even] competes with, that of men in developing and advancing society. [Then] they will also participate in political life, in [all] three branches [of government]. This is one of the steps Jordan has begun to take as part of the reform - particularly because political decision[-makers] and the Hashemite leadership are always calling for empowering women."[8]

 
Rehad Al-Qaddoumi at a campaign rally in 'Amman (Albaladnews.net, September 8, 2016)

In Palestinian Municipal Elections, Women Candidates' Names, Photos Are Not Included In Lists  

Councilwoman Seeking Reelection: The Dominant Culture In Our Society Does Not Encourage Women To Run For Office

In the Palestinian Authority as well, the issue of the limitations women face when running for election and of the traditionalist society's discouragement of women participating in the public sphere is a topic of discussion.

Dr. Rula Al-Sha'er, councilwoman for the Arrabeh municipality, told the Al-Hayat Al-Jadida daily about the difficulties she faces in her reelection campaign, saying that not many women are running for office and that women have no opportunities for true partnership: "I was very enthusiastic when I entered the city council. As a doctor at a university, I asked to serve as deputy mayor. [But] my request was denied, and I was marginalized. When I asked why, I was told that talent and capabilities are not the only criteria for the [upcoming] election, and I was placed eighth on my party's list." She added: "Unfortunately, [Palestinian] society has not yet attained an awareness of or a desire for a female presence in the political arena."

Dr. Al-Sha'er stated that Palestinian clans are at odds with the municipal authorities, as the latter promote women's participation in political life while the former oppose it. She added that she has often heard people say that a particular woman who is involved public life is not representative of her family - "this," she said, "stems from the dominant culture in our traditionalist society, which believes that women do not represent men, even if they have a doctorate degree."

She also noted that she expects no significant change in the coming elections; stating: "Many women candidates are, at best, in fifth place in their party lists... and as a result, without a political decision or a party's support, women will not be able to reach a leadership role."[9]

Women Candidates' Names, Photos Are Not Included In Lists

Another major issue that was a focus of Palestinian media was the use of terms such as "sister," "the sister of," or "the wife of" for women candidates in lists, instead of their names - that is, identifying them in relation to a male family member. Their photos also are often not published, and other images are sometimes used to represent them - for example, below, Palestinian writer Manar Faraj, refers to an image of a "bouquet." Many Palestinian writers condemned this.

Asked about this practice, Palestinian Central Election Commission spokesman Farid Ta'amallah argued that it had nothing to do with the commission. He said that while women candidates used their full names and photo I.D. cards to register, as required by law, some lists referred to all their women candidates as "sister" or "the wife of so-and-so" instead of by name. The commission had no legal authority to prevent this, he said, or to prevent lists from replacing women candidates' photos with another image, as happened in previous election campaigns.[10]


Fatah list for the town of Tammun. In fifth and eighth places is the designation "sister" (Alhadath.ps, August 28, 2016)


Corrected Fatah candidate list for Tammun posted several days later, showing names of Samah Nouri Bani Odeh and Ikhlas 'Ali Muhammad Bani Odeh (Facebook.com/1422968777915010, August 29, 2016)

General Union Of Palestinian Women Official: Erasing The Identity Of Women Candidates Is Due To Traditionalist Elements' Fear Of Change

In a September 4, 2016 article titled "Leave Your Name At Home And Run [In The Elections]," in the Al-Ayyam daily, Rima Nazzal, member of the secretariat of the General Union of Palestinian Women, wrote that erasing the identity of women candidates reflects the position of traditionalist elements that reject the idea of women in public life: "A woman aspiring to run in the municipal elections should leave her name at home - this is amazing and strange. Documenting a woman's full name in the marriage contract and [then] erasing it from the marriage license is ugly, shameful, and harms the family's feelings. The woman belongs to the man: [she is] his wife, his daughter, or his mother, until he dies. Her lineage returns only when he is buried...

"Concealing the names of some candidates in the election list is merely a sign of a deeper and graver matter, and expresses the view of those who oppose women's participation in public life... These opponents are not backing down, and so they seek to use all legitimate and illegitimate means to gut the quota [system] and limit its ability to bring about change.

"Denying women's names, or the sense of shame regarding women's names among traditionalist forces and social elements - who have again reared their heads to impose their reactionary plan that includes all types of social and human backwardness and reeks of discrimination against women - reflects [these elements'] understanding that that factors promoting change and progress in society are no longer relevant. This is a warning bell signaling the need to awaken and unite as part of a national social progressive coalition [that will adopt] a comprehensive enlightened plan in line with national and international sources of authority - a plan based on and emanating from [a situation of] equal rights and equal obligations for all citizens, with no euphemism."[11]

Eradicating Women's Identify Is Like The Pre-Islamic Practice Of Burying Girls Alive

Dr. Walid Al-Qatati, a Rafah-based journalist and educator, compared the removal of women's names from election lists to the pre-Islamic practice of burying girls alive: "The increasing ideological terrorism being carried out by one of the Islamic sects that has emerged from the depths of the barren desert in Arab and Muslim society is also spreading the culture of prohibitions and takfir - and, with these, the culture that views all aspects of a woman as shameful nudity, including her image, her form, her face, and her name...

"The newest element of this culture in Palestine is the publication of lists of candidates for local elections in the West Bank and Gaza that are missing the women [candidates'] names, using terms like 'the sister' or 'the mother of so-and-so' or other technical means to hide them.

"This is like a new way of burying girls alive. During the jahiliyya [pre-Islamic period], girls were buried alive beneath the ground. Today, they are burying them alive above ground, by burying their identity as human beings. A woman is an independent entity, and her first name is a central part of her unique identity. It is not right for a woman to denigrate it or relinquish it. Furthermore, it is not right for a man to revoke a woman's name and obscure her with an ambiguous identity, especially because this contradicts the essence and spirit of Islam, under which everybody, including women, has their own identity, and their own name to be known and called by."[12]

Palestinian Writer: I Thought A Woman President Could End The Occupation

Palestinian writer Manar Faraj wrote how as a child in 1996, she yearned for Palestinian politician Samiha Khalil to win the PA presidential election, because she was a woman and as such could bring in new agendas and end the occupation. Referring also to today's situation, in which women's names and faces are obscured, she wrote: "Allow me to go back in time to my childhood in 1996... The prevailing discourse [back then] was [about the election] of a woman to head Palestine. Some comments were mocking, others focused on what the results [of such a move] would be... I fantasized about this, pondering the image of the woman [Ms. Khalil] who ran in this election. I was very happy, not because I supported or opposed the late president Yasser Arafat, but because I saw this woman as a combination of strength and tenderness, and believed she would bring about the end of the occupation, because she reminded me of my mother, who [always] succeeded in stopping anything bad...

"I am now grown, but I still wonder what it would be like [today] in Palestine had this woman won the election. I am not being critical or downplaying anyone, but just wondering whether this woman would have brought other agendas with her..."

Also in her article, Faraj wrote about the refusal to publish women candidates' names and photos in election lists: "I write to you, oh brave [candidate], oh 'bouquet,' sister, or wife. I do not know you, but I will present for you all the excuses [for your situation]: Perhaps it is our oriental Arab society, with its practices and traditions; perhaps you were forced to do this, as you are forced to do other things daily; perhaps you do not seek publicity or fame and settle for silent activity and achievements; perhaps we present women in our society as idealized figures who must always remain the ideal wife, daughter, and mother, with all the burdens involved, while we have neither ideal men, nor ideal societies, or even an ideal homeland.

"I am addressing you: Are you not enraged [at your situation]? Because we women all want your presence. We want to act, to participate, and to exist. Samiha Khalil was present in the fullest sense of the word, but today her presence is greatly missed...

"The mistake is not about showing or hiding the name [of the candidate] or showing or hiding her photo. The mistake is in the roots - in what the woman learns, and what we learn about the woman, from childhood. I pity her, and I pity you.[13]

 

Endnotes:

[1] According to the Jordanian constitution, the lower house (the House of Representatives) is elected by the voting public, while the upper house (the House of Senate) is appointed by the king.

[2] Al-Rai (Jordan), September 25, 2016.

[3] Wafa.ps, September 8, 2016.

[4] Weforum.org, November 19, 2015.

[5] Al-Ghad (Jordan), July 28, 2016.

[6] Al-Ghad  (Jordan), September 2, 2016.

[7] Al-Ghad (Jordan), September 3, 2016.

[8] Al-Rai (Jordan), August 14, 2016.

[9] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), August 23, 2016.

[10] Al-Quds (East Jerusalem), August 30, 2016.

[11] Al-Ayyam (PA), September 4, 2016.

[12] Paltoday.ps, August 30, 2016.

[13] Maannews.net, September 2, 2016.