x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Jordanian women count on each other to enter parliament

Nuha Nsour, a 47-year-old retired physical education teacher, was anxiously awaiting the results from Jordan's elections, hoping to win a seat in parliament.

AMMAN // Nuha Nsour, a 47-year-old retired physical education teacher, was anxiously awaiting the results from Jordan's elections, hoping to win a seat in parliament. She lost her bid in the 2007 elections, in a society activists say is still not prepared for women in politics.

"My decision to run for parliament was prompted mostly by the support I got from other women. This time they seem to be more aware of having other women in parliament," said Mrs Nsour, sitting on a white plastic chair in her campaign tent yesterday as voting began.

"I am not counting on the support of my tribe, otherwise I would have ran in Salt, where my family originally comes from."

Nuf Al-Hadid, a 50-year-old former school principal, also cannot count on the support of her large, prominent Bedouin tribe. They oppose her decision to run for parliament and have pressured her to pull out because she is a woman, and to allow another member of the tribe to contest the seat she wants, representing the capital Amman.

"They have been putting heavy pressure on me to withdraw from the race and give way to one of the tribesmen, a former lawmaker, who is the other candidate in the family," Ms al-Hadid said. "I am not running against the tribe, but for women to achieve their rights."

A total of 134 women are competing for seats in Jordan's 120-member parliament - along with 629 men.

It is not that women in Jordan do not hold senior jobs, or even take jobs once considered a man's realm, but their role in political life remains limited.

A few traffic policewomen on motorcycles can be seen in Amman's street. Women hold senior posts, such as judges. This year, the first female general prosecutor was appointed. There are three women in the 28-member cabinet.

Asma Khader, secretary general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, said there is still a gender gap when it comes to the participation of women in politics and the economy.

Now, for the 134 women who ran for elections, they will soon find out that it is mostly the quota system that enabled them to get to parliament once the results are final.

To boost women's participation in parliament, the government has doubled the number of seats reserved for them to 12, under a temporary election law adopted in May.

In the previous parliament, six places were allocated for women but only one won her seat outside the quota system, which grants the seats to the female candidate who gets the highest votes. But a lack of trust when it comes to women's role in politics, persists.

"People are not ready to have a woman as an MP; the culture and the mindset is quite restrictive and we did not work on changing the culture of both men and women as a package," said Rula Qawas, a professor of feminism at the University of Jordan. Mrs Nsour does not deny that she is against the quota system, but said it helped her when she faced resistance, from both men and women.

"Society is not prepared yet for women in parliament. Both men and women told me, 'What do you want with this headache? If male parliamentarians hardly did anything in their posts, how can women do anything then?'

"Well, if women make half a society, then the percentage in parliament should be 50-50," she said.

Outside a polling station in west Amman, Asma Manaseer, a 22-year- old university student, said she prefers to vote for men. " I believe that men are more sincere in their pledges compared to women," she said.

Back at Mrs Nsour's tent, Subhi Hjouz, a pharmacist, said: "Women still need government support while society is backward. But we started in recent years to see some changes. …These are the first steps."



* With additional reporting by Associated Press