Parties Agree to Female Representation, even President.

By Elham Hassan
Published October 9th 2005 in Yemen Observer (Vol. VIII Issue 40)
SANA’A – The Islah Party has agreed to women’s participation in the parliamentary elections and has called on political parties to present female candidates for the presidency.

The Socialistic Party proposes a quota system or a system of proportional representation, with the consent of all parties. The Nasserite Party advocates proportional representation over a quota system.

A so-called “Net Star Committee” has been formed, made up of five leading female figures from the five largest parties to coordinate efforts and put pressure on parties to address the issue of increased involvement of women in the elections.

Parties presented their points of view during a discussion meeting held by the Women’s National Committee (WNC) and OXFAM on Thursday, September 29 in Sana’a.

The parliamentary elections of 2003 served as a shock for all parties that called for change in society. In spite of the increasing number of women in the elections, numbering some 3,400,000 and forming 43% of the total electorate, the position of women in political life remains weak, with only one woman elected to Parliament.

The situation led to women demanding a quota system providing for 30% representation in Parliament.

The ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC) agreed to apply the quota system with 10% representation in Parliament and from 15 to 20% in local councils, while the Socialistic Party has started the initiative and applied 30% female representation in its internal party representation, beginning with an elected female assistant general secretary of the party, the first woman in Yemen to gain this position.

In spite of the obvious positive changes in the Islah Party with the initial acceptance of women candidates, the changes reflected only personal opinions within the party and there has still been no official party declaration on the issue.

The WNC meeting brought together political parties and NGOs in order to find practical ways of increasing female involvement.

“The meeting hopes to improve women’s participation in the local council elections of 2006 with a rate of no less than 30%,” Horia Mashhor, deputy of the WNC, said. The rate, she said, had not been decided arbitrarily, but was the result of exhaustive studies of contemporary society.

“We want to reach comprehensive agreement on women’s representation not only in elections but also in government positions,” Mashhor added.  

Mashhor criticized the political parties, especially ruling party, for not playing their role in carrying out changes in society.

“Only 11 women candidates stood at the 2003 parliamentary elections, 6 of whom were independents and 5 of whom represented political parties, and the result neither benefited Yemeni women, nor reflected her role in society,” Mashhor said.

Mashhor called for the formation of a coordination council of party heads and policy makers.

Amat Al-Razaq Ahmed, head of the Women’s Department and member of the general secretariat in the GPC, said that leading women from the five largest political parties - GPC, Islah Party, Socialist Party, Nasserite Party, and the Joint Meeting Parties (JMPs) - formed a Net Star Committee a year and a-half ago, funded by the American Democracy Institute. This Net Star “is considering applying pressure on parties” and meeting party leaders to bring together the views of all parties and reach to agreement on women’s participation.

Mohammmed Qahdan, of the Islah Party, said that the issue of women’s representation is the issue of half of society.

“It is a shame that such an important issue is determined by men. Sometimes they fix representation at 30%, and other times at 20%,” he said. Old ways of thinking, he believed, needed to be changed.

Qahdan said that the problem in the Islah Party lay with the older members who cling to traditions. “But we have moved on,” he said. “There is dialogue inside the party about women’s participation in Parliament.” He said that the party would propose female candidates at the parliamentary elections of 2009, and he called on other parties to put forward women to stand at the next presidential elections.

Wahiba Sabra, of the Socialist Party, said that that the party agrees with the quota system or proportional representation “provided there is political and national agreement”. She warned against continuing discrimination against women as well as using women as political tools.

Mohamed Al-Sabri, of the Nasserite Party, said that the culture of neglecting women reflects society as a whole, as well as the culture of the authority that not only neglects women in political life, but also men.

The JMPs, Al-Sabri said, believe proportional representation to be the most suitable choice, as it will be a legal and constitutional commitment from all parties.

Abdullah Al-Sabri, head of the Popular Forces Federation Party, said that a quota system gave women some of their rights, but not all. “The parties could withdraw their commitment to the quota system at any moment.”

Parties agree that the quota system and proportional representation depend on reforms to election and referendum laws.

“Women would not be as corrupt as men,” said Hassan Zaid, of Al-Haq party.

Speaking on behalf of the National Opposition Council, Abdullah Hanash said:“Women should not participate because there was external pressures or internal pressures from human right organizations or from authority, but because it is a natural right”.

Hanash added: “This is our conviction. Is it the conviction of the rest of society? Do women themselves have this same conviction?”

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Yemen Observer Newspaper