Women candidates face an uphill task in Jordan election

Women candidates face an uphill task in Jordan election

From aristocratic neighborhoods in West Amman to rural villages in the south, women candidates running in Jordan’s parliamentary elections face similar obstacles: Overcoming a male-dominated society ruled by a tribal and conservative mentality.
While they may come from different social backgrounds, the women candidates campaign for similar goals: They fight against deep-rooted corruption, increasing poverty and seek equal opportunity for all members of society, men or women.
Observers say reaction of Jordanian society to women running in elections runs from indifference and mockery to even violent reactions to keep current limits on women’s political participation in force. In one case, a woman candidate saw her 20-year-old son raped by a local gang to punish her for competing in the village.
The candidate, who did not want to be named, said a videotape was taken of her son being raped and distributed across the village.
“A police investigation showed that the attack was instigated by one of the candidates running in my village who did not want me to run,” she said. She said several suspects were arrested although they were released after a few weeks. A police spokesman confirmed the incident and refused to comment further.
Women will face such attitudes against their candidacy again on Jan. 23, when 129 women compete for the 15 parliamentary seats reserved in a women’s quota. Another 84 are running on electoral lists for an additional 27 seats not reserved for women.
The number of women candidates in this year’s elections are less than those who ran in the 2010 polls, when women were allowed 10 quota seats and a total of 136 competed out of 736 candidates. Not more than one candidate won outside the quota.
Men dominate electoral lists and inclusion of women on them is seen simply as an attempt to win votes.
Despite the seemingly high number of women candidates, the women’s participation is viewed as simply a formality.
Rights activists and candidates admit women have a long way to go before competing on an equal footing with their male counterparts.
“Without the quota, we might not even have one woman in the Parliament,” admits candidate Abeer Al-Maghrabi, an Amman university professor. Al-Maghrabi, in her late 30s, is an example of a modern Jordanian woman: Western educated, with a keen knowledge of social media and determined to improve living conditions in a country plagued by record unemployment and rising poverty.
Smartly dressed and eloquent, the environment activist said women should grab the opportunity to garner a seat in Parliament.
Historically, women have had practically no chance in the open seat election, and that is not expected to change this time.
“Having the women quota is not the ideal thing for women. I would prefer (to win a seat) in the open contest, but the time has not come for this yet,” she said.
Al-Maghrabi said Jordanian women are under the control of their male relatives, be it their husband, father or brother, as for whom to vote.
“Women would vote for men only because their father or husband says so. Sometimes women aren’t even convinced about the qualities of the male candidates, but vote for them anyway,” she added.
Women’s representation in the Jordanian Parliament has significantly improved over the past two decades. When the late King Hussein endorsed parliamentary elections after decades of martial law, women were not granted quota rights and thus had only one or two representatives in the Parliament.
After King Abdallah took over and more women’s groups pressed for improved rights, the law was amended in early 2000 to include a quota of five women’s seats.
Last year, the king endorsed an amended elections law increasing that number to 15.
Despite the legislation, the overall Jordanian mentality remains anti-feminist, said Sana Sarya, a former schoolteacher and women’s activist from the port city of Aqaba.
Saraya, 42. a mother of three, hopes to uncover corruption in Jordan’s public sector. “I want to fight for the marginalized people, women and also the poor people,” she said.
In this tribal dominated society, traditionally governments include at least two women in the Cabinet, but usually they get less significant portfolios like culture, tourism and at best the Planning Ministry.

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