Time for Jordanian Women

The upcoming elections in Jordan will see the highest number of women candidates, as the country applies a new principle of proportional representation in the parliament.

by Victoria Silva Sánchez

Electoral banners in Jamal Abdul Nasser Circle (better known as Dwar Dakhlia). Photo: Victoria Silva Sánchez

Electoral banners in Jamal Abdul Nasser Circle (better known as Dwar Dakhlia). Photo: Victoria Silva Sánchez

Five years after the 2011 protests and the promised reforms by the state, Jordan holds its first parliamentary elections incorporating the principle of proportional representation. This will allow the formation of political blocks and coalitions in the parliament, and women have something to say.

However, and although women organizations have been campaigning to increase the quota of seats in the parliament, there are only 15 seats allocated for women. That is one for each governorate. That means only 10 per cent of the total number of seats for the House of Representatives go to women.

Women organizations have been campaigning for having 23 seats in the next elections but were unsuccessful. For example, Amman counts with 5 constituencies but only one seat will be allocated for a woman. “We are not happy as a women’s movement with only 15 seats for women. We are continuing our demands for having 30 per cent of seats in the parliament, because we know that if you have the one third in the parliament, you can negotiate”, says Layla Naffa, Director of Programmes at Arab Women Organization of Jordan (AWO).

Interview with Layla Naffa at AWO headquarters. Photo: Victoria Silva Sánchez

Interview with Layla Naffa at AWO headquarters. Photo: Victoria Silva Sánchez

Women remain underrepresented in the political life. In the last elections held in 2013, 191 women contested, representing 13.4 per cent of the total number of candidates. This contrasts with the 51.8 per cent of registered female voters. According to the EU Observation Mission Final Report on those elections, out of 61 national lists, only two of were headed by female candidates. For all of the others they were listed on the fifth position or below, resulting in lower chances to get elected. Back then only three women gained a seat outside the quota system.

A path full of difficulties

Electoral banner with a woman as main representative. Photo: Victoria Silva Sánchez

Electoral banner with a woman as main representative. Photo: Victoria Silva Sánchez

Women candidates also face difficulties when it comes to funding their campaigns, as they do not have the same access to funds. They do not only lack money, they also get different media coverage than men. In general, when media talk about women candidates “they do it as numbers, they don’t talk about what they are doing”, says Sana Alshareif, projects manager in Arab Women Media Center.

The Arab Women Media Center works to enhance the potential of women candidates in national and municipal elections through a training program called “Let your voice be heard”. They train female candidates in public speaking and how to communicate with the media. “The media coverage depends on the media itself, but I cannot blame only the media, I also blame the candidates because they are not conscious of the effect and the power the media has”, sentenced Sana. “What we always told them is to use these tools for their own benefit”.

AWO has been active during 46 years doing advocacy and working for enhancing women’s rights in Jordan. Since the democratization process that started in 1990, they changed their focus from economic empowerment to political empowerment, working to make women conscious of their rights and participate in the elections. But also supporting women candidates and training them in women’s rights. For these elections, they have developed a campaign named #Anty_Sawtuna (“You are our voice”), focused in demanding legal changes and advocating for gender equality.

What means to be a woman politician in Jordan

Electoral banners where a women is figured prominently. Left, Amman First list. Right, Ma’an list. Photo: Victoria Silva Sánchez

Electoral banners where a women is figured prominently. Left, Amman First list. Right, Ma’an list. Photo: Victoria Silva Sánchez

It is always said that women do not vote for women, but for Layla “it is not an issue of women voting for women. The question is: are people aware, are people in general including women at the level of awareness and to be convinced that there are good women and men standing for women’s rights?”. This is one of the main problems pointed both by Layla and Sana: that many women elected do not care about women’s rights and women’s issues. They do not contact women’s organizations, they are not present in the parliament when discussing issues as CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women). “Women should not vote for women, they have to vote for parties that include women and care about women’s rights”, says Layla.

The social perception of women in politics is still influenced by traditional gender stereotypes. According to the UPR shadow report carried out by AWO in 2013, politics is still seen as male domain, even if every time there are more women participating actively in politics at the national level. Some stereotypes still persist as the role of women in public life opposing to their duties in the private life, and also questioning their capacities and abilities to carry out their public tasks.

However, we can find important female MPs who have challenged social conventions and norms to enhance women’s rights. One of them is Abla Abu Obleh, who was the first women to be leader of a political party, the Jordanian Democratic People’s Party (HASHD). Now she is running for the elections in the first constituency of Amman. Another one is Wafa Bani Mustafa, from Jerash governorate. She proposed two bills important for women’s rights: the first one was granting the ID to the child of Jordanian women married to foreigners, who did not have this right until that moment; the second one, was not to leave the rapists without punishment through the marriage with their victims. “Not a single parliamentarian man has shaken the social life in Jordan as she has done”, sentences Layla. She is also part of Women’s Democracy Network (WDN).

What to expect for the next elections?

“Maybe in the next elections there will be more than three women, maybe four for the next elections outside the quota system. But nobody knows”, comments Layla. The competition between almost 1,300 candidates that have been registered for the voting will not make it easier.

Meanwhile, the landscape of Amman is getting decorated with more and more electoral banners showing prominent female candidates. ow that will transform into political reality will be seen only after election day.

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This article was produced as part of the Inclusive Media project. It was originally published on Medium, Sept 15, 2016. 

 
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Victoria Silva Sánchez is a Spanish freelance journalist and researcher currently based in Jordan. She holds a Master degree in International Relations and African Studies and a Master Degree in Peace, Security and Defence. Her work focuses on international security and geopolitics in Middle East, North Africa and Subsaharan Africa, terrorism and extremism. She is a regular contributor to Baab Al Shams, Esglobal, Africayé and Diagonal/El Salto.

Pascale Müller