The ballots of the Kenyan general elections on March 4 are still being counted, but the election’s outcome for women is less unsure, as Kenya is a deeply patriarchal society. Until now, women had almost no say in politics.
The elections were the first ones held under the new constitution, which was passed in 2010. The constitution contains a provision that states that “not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.” This should change political representation for women radically – as women must now form at least one-third of any elective public body. But in December 2012, the Kenyan High Court decided that this provision should first be effective after the elections.
Only one of eight presidential runners was female. And, according to opinion polls before the election, only about one percent of Kenyans would have voted for her. Politics is still regarded as the preserve of men – women in authority are still mainly regarded as a curse to the community and as violating the tradition. “Society sees our place being the kitchen and the bedroom. Nothing beyond there,” parliamentary candidate Sophia Abdi Noor told Reuters.
Threat and smear campaigns
Female candidates were threatened with rape and violence and found themselves subjected to smear campaigns aimed to destroy their reputation. The parliamentary candidate Alice Wahome, for example, found her hometown littered with condoms with her name on them in an attempt, blamed on her main male rival, to portray her as promiscuous and thus not trustworthy.
Many women look with envy to Rwanda, where more than half of legislators are women, more than anywhere in the world.
But there is also a ray of hope: Before the March 4 elections, the two-thirds gender equilibrium had already been implemented in some offices: one-third of the members of the Supreme Court, the commission on revenue allocation, the commission for the implementation of the constitution and the salaries and remuneration commission were female.
Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation / Johanna Wassholm
Today, parliamentary elections are hold in Jordan. When it comes to women’s political representation everything can only get better, as there is not one woman in the present provisional government.
Today’s elections are early elections, King Abdullah II dissolved the parliament last fall, a common phenomenon in Jordan politics. According to the new election law, which is the result of two years demands for reform, are 15 of the 150 seats in parliament reserved for female candidates. This is an increase of three seats compared to the last election in 2010 and can be regarded as a tiny success. At the same time the total number of seats in parliament has increased, so the quota of 10 percent is still the same. The women’s rights movement in Jordan is not content with this low number and, since the last election, has been calling for 30 percent of the seats should go to women.
There is hope for a few more women to get into parliament after today’s election, as two women are number one on their respective parties lists and a couple more women have a chance of getting enough votes of their own to be elected. The number of women to stand for election is higher than ever before. Out of about 1400 candidates, 215 are women.
Family voting is common
But even if women will be represented with more than 15 percent in the parliament after the election, the view on women as political actors won’t change over night. Many still think that politics is off-limits for women and neither men nor women vote in a larger extend for female candidates. The so-called family voting is also common in Jordan, especially outside the capital Amman.
Layla Hamarne from The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s partner organization ‘Arab Women’s Organization’ works for advocating women’s political participation. She doesn’t believe that many women will decide for themselves for whom they will vote. “I think it is very uncommon for women to vote independently, except for intellectuals and people in the bigger cities, “she says.
It is the paterfamilias, safeguarding the families’ or the clans’ interests, who decides whom the rest of the family shall vote for. The lack of possibility to vote independently makes it difficult for women to vote for candidates who want to strengthen women’s power and influence in society.
The big question is though: Will this play a role? Discontentment is widespread amongst voters as well as political parties. The claim for political reform has been loud since the Arab Spring started to spread two years ago, and even though there are some changes for the better, the situation is still far from being satisfying for the majority of the population. There was only a minimal response to the demand of a modernized and more democratic electoral law, and therefore some opposition parties boycott the election, amongst them the influential Muslim Brotherhood and some leftist parties.
A low voter turnout is expected; in Amman no more than 30 percent of the voters are anticipated to show up at the poll places. In public opinion, the candidates are the same who have been sitting in parliament for many years. Many corruption cases, apparently an inevitable part of the Jordanian power structure, chipped away at their reputation and they are not regarded as being able to bring about change. ‘They are all corrupt’, is a usual statement. Few people think that a new parliament will do something against the high living costs in the country or widen the freedom of speech, two questions which are pivotal in Jordanian politics right now – or should be pivotal, in the people’s opinion.
Text: Johanna Wassholm
working for the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Amman, Jordan
Translation: Katharina Andersen
When the Egyptian People’s Assembly this week announced who would hold the seats in the committée responsible for developing the country’s new constitution, their decision caused many strong reactions. Only six of 100 committée members were women.
Protesters in the Tahrir square, Cairo, Nov 2011. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
After the Constitution Committée’s participants were known, 14 of its members, all liberals, immediately resigned. They said that the group just isn’t representative since it marginalizes both women, young people and Christians.
On the International Women’s Day, 8th of March, women activists in Egypt presented a list to the parliament with over 100 names of women experts, more than qualified to be a part of the writing of the constitiution. Non of these women were appointed.
Saba Nowsari from The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation is working with women activists in Egypt:
- The activists here have decided to form their own committée, with 100 women and men representing the groups that were excluded in the official process, and write a shadow constitution. To show a real representation of the Egyptian people, she says.
- The women’s movement is actually hopeful. They just say that they need solidarity, people who help spreading their issues internationally to make their voices stronger. And they are also trying to find ways to get men involved in the struggle for women’s rights.
Yesterday the People’s Assembly held an emergency meeting. Appointing the Constitution Committée was the newly elected Assembly’s first important mission.
Of the 100 seats in the Constitution Committée 50 went to parliamentarians and 50 to lawyers, religious leaders etc. Half of the parliamentarian seats went to the Freedom and Justice Party, an Islamist party led by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Salafi Al Nour Party got 11 seats.
The People’s Assembly has also had problems with its representation of women. In the last election women recieved only 2 percent of the seats.
More on women and politics in Egypt can be found on Women and the Arab Spring.