x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Female FNC veterans pass on their wisdom

Female veterans of the past FNC have told those hoping to follow them that their most important job would be to represent women's views, not discuss women's issues.

Don't discuss issues, represent women's views: Rowaya Al Samahi, a former FNC member for Fujairah, addresses the Women's Participation in the FNC seminar in Dubai yesterday. Delores Johnson / The National
Don't discuss issues, represent women's views: Rowaya Al Samahi, a former FNC member for Fujairah, addresses the Women's Participation in the FNC seminar in Dubai yesterday. Delores Johnson / The National

Female veterans of the past FNC have told those hoping to follow them that their most important job would be to represent women's views, not discuss women's issues.

"Women are half of society," Rowaya Al Samahi, a former FNC member from Fujairah, told 70 female and two male candidates yesterday.

"Women are not there to talk about women issues, they are there to represent their views. Men need to be just as involved in women's issues.

"And for a male member to support women in the council, it is a much stronger voice."

But Ms Al Samahi stressed male and female members should be treated equally.

"We are members of the FNC, we must make that clear," she said. "We are equal. Media always wants to separate us."

Mrs Al Samahi said UAE women had made their mark on politics.

"Sixty-five per cent of diplomats in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are women," she said. "There are also four women ministers in the country and 22.5 per cent of the last FNC were women."

Although only one woman was elected in the last election, in 2006, eight others were appointed - an indication of the country's trust and faith in women, said Fatima Al Mari, a former Dubai FNC member.

For more women to be elected this time, they needed to be better aware of the role of an FNC member, Ms Al Mari said. She suggested the number of candidates making pledges beyond the FNC's power indicated many were not.

"Members cannot put forward promises - only things they believe in, or what they want to work towards," Ms Al Mari said.

"The most important thing is how they propose to do what they say they will. This will help the voter know if they can do this."

In the FNC's past four-year term, it debated more than 70 issues including 47 laws, sometimes recommending amendments.

"Our role is to amend laws, refuse laws, give recommendations, question the Government," Ms Al Mari said. "Not only the last council did a lot, but also all the previous ones since the day they were formed in 1972."

She said the Marriage Fund and the Sheikh Zayed housing programme were established after council recommendations.

The FNC also recommended the Ministry of Health ban smoking in cars that contained children.

"Candidates need to concentrate on getting people to know them but not through a programme - they all have the same programmes, same ambitions," Ms Al Mari said.

"Let voters know who you are, and what you have done for society and what you plan to do. There are faces we still do not know."

She said the expanded electorate - nearly 130,000, compared with 6,595 in 2006 - meant candidates could no longer rely solely on their own network of friends and relatives.

"Today, we are talking about a huge number of voices," Ms Al Mari said. "Candidates should use social media to keep in contact with voters."

Ms Al Samahi dismissed any suggestions that a seat on the FNC came with perks.

"There are no millions of dirhams, there are no villas, no lands, no cars - you go to work, work hard, and receive what you get," she said.

"Being a member is a privilege. Now we must regrettably add 'former' to our FNC title."

Ms Al Mari advised candidates to study the UAE constitution, their "main weapon" in the FNC.

"In all discussions, we must go back to the constitution," she said.

"The constitution explains the role of the council very clearly. Our role is legislative and scrutinising."

osalem@thenational.ae