7th APRIL 2015 - Vol.XXXVIII No.018
Local News

Election quota for women plea

A FRESH call has gone out for a women's quota in parliament and municipal councils.

It follows a low turnout by female candidates in this year's election, which has prompted fears that even fewer women could run in 2014.

Just nine women have come forward to run for parliament, while only three are contesting municipal council elections.

This takes the total number of women candidates to just 12, compared to 42 in 2002 and 23 in 2006.

The steady decline in female election hopefuls over the years has sparked concern that women are being sidelined from Bahrain's democracy.

"A temporary quota system would bring women candidates in front of the voters who will elect them," said Bahrain Women's Union president Mariam Al Ruwaie, who is going up against conservative Islamist candidate Shaikh Jassim Al Saeedi, in East Riffa.

"Most political societies did not support females and came out with all-male lists of prospective candidates.

"If a woman is backed by a society it adds more weight to her campaign and increases her chances of winning, rather than contesting as an independent."

Activist Dr Sabeeka Al Najjar, a member of the Awal Women's Society, backed calls for a quota.

However, she said the move could be contested because it contravened the national constitution, which states that men and women are equal.

"I completely agree with having a certain percentage, say 15pc, reserved for women candidates contesting elections," she said.

"They are repeatedly failing and this will weaken their chances of even contesting in future."

But she also said that backing from established political groups could be enough to get women elected without any quota.

"If societies back women it will boost their (women's) morale and increase their winning chances, rather than the usual practice of contesting as an independent," she said.

Not a single woman was elected in 2002 and Latifa Al Gaoud was the only woman to get elected during parliament and municipal council elections in 2006.

However, the MP was elected unopposed for the sparsely populated Constituency six in the Southern Governorate, which covers Al Areen, Hawar Islands, Um Jedr El Seman, Trafi, Had Al Jamal and Al Dur.

Ms Al Gaoud is one of five MPs to have been elected automatically this year after she again ran unopposed to secure her second term in office.

But she is in the minority and many female candidates who contested previous elections have simply given up.

Fawzia Zainal, who ran in 2006 and withdrew from this year's parliament race at the last moment, said a quota was vital to make voters take women candidates seriously.

"The declining number of women candidates since the 2002 elections speaks for itself," she said.

"There is a clear decline and if there is no quota for women for the 2014 elections, this number will go down further."

Ms Zainal, who had her posters defaced and campaign tent vandalised in 2006, secured a respectable 2,599 votes in Riffa, Ma'ameer and Nuwaidrat.

She withdrew this year for personal reasons, but suggested authorities could reserve five of parliament's 40 seats for women - one in each of Bahrain's five governorates - and let voters decide which woman they want to elect in each area.

"Voters would choose one woman from the list through this system," she explained.

"We could have five women in parliament or municipal councils.

"This system would ensure gender mainstreaming and fill the gap in the political arena."

If nothing is done, she warned that women candidates would eventually give up.

"Women will contest once, twice but then gradually give up if they fail to attract voters who continue to elect religious figures," said Ms Zainal, who is currently managing her husband's business.

Another suggestion is to allow only women to run for election in constituencies where they outnumber men.

However, lawyer Shahzalan Khamis said she doubted Bahrain was ready for women in parliament or on municipal councils.

She stood for parliament in 2006, but said the experience had put her off running for public office again.

"We need real reforms that ensure women will be equal partners in society and the country," she said.

"This will boost their confidence and make them more visible in key positions."

In addition to Ms Al Gaoud and Ms Al Ruwaie, the seven other women running for parliament are Dr Huda Al Mutawah, Rajaa Al Kelaiti, Enas Mohammed Shabeeb, Basema Saleh Abdulla, Layla Rajab, Zahra Isa Haram and Dr Munira Fakhro.

Sabah Al Dossary, Fatima Salman and Mohra Ghareeb are the three women eyeing municipal council seats.

Only Dr Fakhro, who is contesting for a second time in a constituency covering Isa Town and Jidali, is backed by a political society.

She is running on the National Democratic Action Society (Wa'ad) ticket and has also secured the backing of Bahrain's biggest opposition bloc, Al Wefaq.

However, Al Menbar - the Sunni Islamist group seeking a return to parliament - openly admits that it has no intention of supporting women candidates.

Both Al Menbar and Al Asala, a Salafist group that follows traditional Muslim beliefs, made their stance clear by coming out with all-male candidate lists.

"I do agree that we do not support any women for elections, which is based on Islamic traditional values," said Dr Adnan Jassim, an Al Menbar candidate running in Muharraq.

"But we are ready to co-operate and work with women who make it to parliament."

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Elections Number of women candidates

Parliament Municipal Councils

2002 - 8 34

2006 - 18 (one elected unopposed) 5

2010 - 9 (one elected unopposed) 3

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