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Local elections in Jordan a chance for women

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It's not common for women candidates to put their picture on their campaign posters. Fatima Bani Yaseen is an exception. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Alexandra Karlsdotter Stenström.

It's not common for women candidates to put their picture on their campaign posters. Fatima Bani Yaseen is an exception. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Alexandra Karlsdotter Stenström.

Today Jordan holds local elections. With a recently raised women quota, the outcome could be more women than ever in local councils. We have met three women activists who stand as candidates.

In Jordan, local elections are being met with varying interest. In the capital Amman most people don’t seem to bother. It is just a day off for everyone and the common joke is that the shores of the Dead Sea will be full of people, since no one will go and vote.

But traditionally, local elections are more important for people living outside of the major cities. They are primarily a way to secure the family or clan interests, through making sure that a strong candidate is produced, that can be elected to the City Council.

Won over male candidates

Maysoon Meqdadi. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Alexandra Karlsdotter Stenström

Maysoon Meqdadi. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Alexandra Karlsdotter Stenström

In the village of Kura in the north of Jordan, we meet Fatima Bani Yaseen and Maysoon Meqdadi, active in the local women’s rights organisation with the same name as the village. They both run for election. Fatima has held a seat at the City Council for several periods now, and is a well-known figure in her constituency. When her clan was to decide on candidates for this year’s election, she was one of their final choices, beating several male candidates in the process. But getting to that point has not been easy.

Brothers decide

Her first time as a candidate was preceded by a long and painful struggle with her brother. Since Fatima is not married, her brothers have the final say on everything she is to do outside the walls of her home. But this time she refused to accept their no.

“I locked myself in my room and just cried. I refused to talk to my brother.”

Weeks passed, and when only two weeks remained before the election, Fatima’s brother finally gave in. She was allowed to run as a candidate.

“Our society is ruled by men and clans” she says cooly.

But she adds that many women want to support her and have called her to ask if they can help with her campaign.

Raised quota

For Maysoon it’s her first time as a candidate. Besides from her and Fatima, there are only two other women standing for election in the municipality, so they are both hoping to be elected.

And chances are good. In the latest revision of the Jordanian electoral law, the women quota at the municipal level was raised from 20 to 25 percent. It is a relatively high figure – in the Parliament only 10 percent of the seats are reserved for women – and a success for the women’s movement. But a success that demands commitment. To change the view of women being mere political alibis, women have to get engaged in politics and stand for election.

Out of 2 808 candidates in the local elections, 473 are women. The total number of seats in the city councils are 1100, which means that 275 of them are reserved for women. Thus, there are less than two female candidates for each seat. And some districts don’t even have one female candidate. This is solved by hand-picking women to the remaining seats – women who often are skilled and experienced, but who haven’t put themselves up as candidates.

Only female candidate

In the village of Rakeen in southern Jordan, lives Sara Rahayfeh. She is also active in a local women’s rights organisation, this too with the same name as the village. She also stands for election, and since she is the only female candidate in her constituency, chances are good for her to win a seat.

Besides from being the leader of the organisation Rakeen, Sara is an experienced and well-known midwife. Still, it is crucial for her to have the family or the clan behind her when standing for election.

“I have the support of my whole family in this. And I feel strong. I have learned so much through my job with the organisation” she says.

Posters and knocking on doors

Back in Kura, Maysoon and Fatima are talking with horror about a woman in their district running as a candidate, not in her own name but as the wife of Mr X – because his name is the important one.

Fatima has her picture on her election posters. This is rare for a woman, since it’s not considered appropriate. Maysoon has not printed any posters, but has been out knocking on doors in her constituency, talking to voters about the things she wants to change.

“I want to make sure that the resources of the municipality are distributed fairly between everyone who lives here. Waste collection is important, it has to run smoothly everywhere. And I want to ensure that there are street lights on all streets.”

Fatima is also adamant on the importance of resources being distributed fairly. And she is particularly interested in how the budget is being put together.

“There has to be women in the Budget Committee, and we must ensure that the money also will benefit women. Health care is an important example, women need special medical equipment” she says.

Johanna Wassholm