From Yemen Observer

Culture & Society
Women Continue Efforts to Increase Political Involvement
By Elham Hassan
May 9, 2006, 20:29

SANA'A - Yemeni women have gone through a great deal in their experiences of elections since Yemen's unification in 1991, struggling for not only representation but to even vote, through three parliamentary elections, a presidential election and local council election.

Such experiences have increased women's awareness about their rights in the election process, not only as voters but also as candidates.

Yet the level of women's representation in parliament is just 0.33%, the lowest rate in the Arab countries, which themselves have the lowest rate of women's representation in parliament of the whole world, at just 6.4%.

The number of women nominated to compete on the parliamentary seats decreased from 41 candidates in 1993, to 17 in 1997 and finally to only 11 in the 2003 elections.

Moreover, the representation of women in the parliament decreased from two women in the first parliamentary election in 1993, remaining level for the 1997 elections, but decreasing to only one in the 2003 elections - against a total of 300 men.

Now, as the country prepares for the upcoming presidential and local elections in September, efforts are being made to see if it is possible to increase the rates to include more women in the political process.

In the local council elections of 2001, the number of women who won seats in the provincial and district councils reached only 0.6% of the total local councils' membership, with just 37 women compared to 6000 men.

The situation in the upper Shura consultative council - in which the members are appointed not elected is not any better. Only two women were appointed out of the total of 111 members.

In the past presidential election 1999, women participated as voters only, with the number of registered women voters making up 12% of the total electorate. 

This time, three women have announced their desire to run for the presidential elections.

However, while few observers expect their efforts to be successful, campaigners argue that by merely standing the women have made a major step forward in the political involvement of women in the electoral process, and their attempt has received much support.

As voters, there have also been improvements. The number of female voters has increased from 15% in 1993 to 43% of the total electorate in the last elections of 2003.

Some attempts have been made to try to solve the poor rates of women's involvement through the introduction of a quota system to boost the numbers.

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.

The opposition Socialist Party also launched an initiative , applying for 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. 

However, 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.

Women's representation in the supreme bodies of the main political parties seems relatively encouraging. However, due to the slow progress of women's ratios in the structures of those bodies - the percentages range between 4% and 14% approximately, according to the National report on women's statues in Yemen 2004 - women's actual participation in the supreme bodies work and decisions remains symbolic in most cases.

Despite the fact there is no base in the Islamic jurisprudence, the republic's constitution, or the internal legalizations of the main political parties that stand against women's participation in the political life, women's representation and participation in the political life is still weak and faces many challenges.

Indeed, it is the equality between men and women that is confirmed and emphasized by Yemen's various laws and rules.

Article number 31 of the constitution states that women and men are equal in the duties and rights, which are ensured by Islamic Sharia and laws.

In addition, article number 8 of Parties and Organizations Arrangement state that no political party or organization will be established on the base of discrimination between citizens due to sex.

Instead, the weak participation of women in political life is caused by the many social, cultural, economic and political challenges, which make a quota system the only available solution.

Such a proposal is not Three Islamic countries have already applied a quota system, Morocco, Sudan and Jordan.

An increasing number of other countries around the world are also using or introducing quota systems, to ensure certain levels of women are elected to political office.

Around 81 countries apply a quota system for political elections , as well as for the executive authorities, and public and private foundations.

In some European countries applying quota system has reached up to50%, while international recommendations have suggested increasing women's representing to no less than 30% for decision making positions.

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