By: Shara Jazzar
According to the numbers issued by the Department of Statistics in Jordan in 2017, females amount to 4.7 million of the total population, with a percentage of 47.1%. However, based on the baseline study on “Perceptions and structures that prevent the participation of women in political life in Jordan” published by Hivos in April 2018, the percentage of females in leadership positions in political parties does not exceed 5.5%. Given that political parties are key to accessing influential positions in the government and others, why are women in Jordan – who constitute half of the population – unable to effectively enter these circles?
Women and politics in Jordan
To start with, females in Jordan were only granted their right to vote and run for the Parliamentary elections in 1974, with the ratification of Law Number 8. Moreover, women were unable to vote or be candidates for the municipal councils until 1982. This means that they were excluded from the political life until the early 80s. According to statistics released by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), women held only 20 out of 130 seats at the House of Representatives during the most recent elections in 2016, with a percentage of 15%. It is worth noting that 15 of these seats are allocated to women based on the quota system; meaning that they are not based on their qualifications but rather on an attempt to create some sort of a ‘gender balance.’
Political parties law in Jordan
According to article 5-b of the political parties law issued in 2015 in Jordan, “a political party cannot be formed based on religion, sect or race; nor on discrimination related to gender or origin.” Moreover, in article 20-d, each political party must “provide equal chances for all citizens to reach leadership positions or take part in them.” In other words, women are by law considered equal to men when it comes to founding and participating in political parties or occupying leadership positions. However, as we will see below, reality is not quite in line with that.
Jordanian women members of political parties
In order to get the views of Jordanian women members of political parties on the challenges they face on account of their gender, Hivos interviewed a few of them.
Hanin Al-Shawabkeh, 26 years old, Coordinator of Madaba branch at Stronger Jordan Party is running for the elections of the Secretary General of her party’s branch in Madaba. Her long-term ambition is to become a Member of Parliament. In her opinion, what prevents women from becoming politically active through parties is mostly related to economy. Because political work is unpaid and sometimes requires investment from the partisan, “women are often unable to take part in it because they do not have a source of income to start with.” Moreover, families have a say in that matter, in particular when it comes to girls from rural areas because partisanship is not socially accepted. However, in her party, Hanin never faced any discrimination for being a woman. “Female opinions are taken into consideration and most of them are educated,” she added. During the latest Amman branch elections that took place a few days ago, 7 out of the 17 members elected were females, or roughly 41%. The results, though, might not be as promising in other areas in the country.
Another young and ambitious political activist is Walaa Hassan, member of the Jordanian Communist Party. In her opinion, “the percentage of women in the Communist Party is higher and more effective than other parties.” She also pointed out that, sadly, some parties in Jordan register women only in order to be able to be granted their permits, because the law requires that they have a specific number of females. Thus, they are with not effective members. In her view, there are many reasons that hinder women from joining parties. Some of these have to do with the nature of the party per sei – leftists in particular are frowned upon – others have to do with the local culture. For instance, conservative environments believe that “women should not play any role in politics.” For these people, “the place of a woman is at home, raising her children.” Moreover, females who are politically active “have a bad reputation, especially if they are leftists, because they mix with men.” Walaa expressed that the Jordanian Communist Party “positively discriminates against females,” which roughly constitute 30% of its members, in the sense that they are encouraged, empowered and receive special treatment and attention. Furthermore, their opinions are heard and taken into consideration. Her biggest wish is for the government to encourage political work in general by drawing a positive image about it. This would further attract both young women and young men to play what should actually be their role in society.
In parallel, from an older generation, Ghada Hammad, head of the Woman Section at Al-Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party, has been a member of the party for more than 40 years. Nonetheless, “there are no women who hold leadership positions,” she said. Ghada believes that “society prevents women from joining parties, because this should not be their priority.” Moreover, “there is a lack of awareness about the importance of politics and political parties.” Also, women are not encouraged to seek leadership in general. In her opinion, females were more involved in politics in the 1950s, when they used to take part in demonstrations and were supported by their parents to do so, unlike today.
To conclude, there are many factors that hinder Jordanian women from actively participating in political parties. Some of these mainly focus on restraining them from joining parties in the first place. For instance, the local traditional culture not always accepts females taking part in politics and believes this is a sphere that is reserved to males, whereas women belong at home. In addition, since meetings are places of encounters between males and females, they are considered as inappropriate for ‘decent’ girls and might negatively impact their reputation or their ability to get married. Furthermore, there is a tendency to fear that a woman’s involvement in parties might result in her detention or her being monitored or not finding a job; and many families use these arguments to counter their daughters’ desires.
As for the women who are already members of parties, it is clear that even in the most open-minded ones, females are still unable to reach leadership positions. This might be due to the fact that males outnumber them – for the reasons cited above – and end up voting for their peers when it comes to leadership positions, or the lack of belief in women’s capacities and abilities.
If change is to take place, it should start from amending the negative connotation related to politics and political parties in particular. Then, it should be followed by raising the awareness of people towards the importance of having more women enter the political sphere and access leadership position for the benefit of society as a whole. Because their input is different than men’s, it will result in more comprehensive policies that promote gender equality, among other things.