Expert Insight

Political woman in Middle East and social experience . Dr\ Seham Aly Alqabandy


Woman participation in decision-making, political life and leadership is still subject of controversy and occupies human rights activists’ concern all over the world. Even in developed countries, women issues and aspirations are still offered priority.

A glimpse at our Arab countries suffering wars, strifes and ideological conflicts reflects women widowing, loss and displacement.

In such paper we shall shed light upon a group of terms related to the issue of women limited opportunities in participation in political work, on top of which is the following:

First: Awareness:

It is a major personal trait which volume distinguishes one person from another. Man starts to be aware of his basic needs that enable him to survive and grow. Then such awareness develops through meditation and thinking; hence, he realizes the relationship between himself and his surroundings. Then he becomes aware of the universe or the place he lives in.

As there exists individual self-awareness stemming from man’s full perception of himself, his society and his prominence within such society and his universe, there is a collective or social awareness in which all individuals share group history, status quo and prominence between other societies and determines its vision of the universe and life as well.

Political awareness transgresses man’s knowledge of his general political reality, or political authoritarian reality of his society, region and the globe- in general to available and possible political “alternatives” (which are supposed to be better or worse than that prevails his reality and the reality of the surrounding world) and moreover his understanding of (major) prevailing and  possible political concepts and terminology—like dictatorship, legitimacy, shura, democracy, capitalism, socialism, political unions, political partisanship, colonialism, freedom---- etc

Second: political awareness:

Is the general conception of the political climate moved by ambivalences, and schemes of political actors. Moreover, it pertains to the concept of the political awareness of individuals, organizations and societies on equal footing and reveals the extent of man’s awareness of his general political reality and the extent of his awareness of available and possible political alternatives. That’s why the more the level of man’s understanding of his political reality increases, the more his knowledge of his surrounding increases. In order to develop such awareness, man has to increase his general knowledge through reading, travelling and social participation.

Third: political upbringing

Is a concept that tackles “study of the process of upbringing through which children of all ages acquire political behaviors, attitudes and knowledge”. It refers to the process of learning through which norms and behaviors acceptable by successful political system pass from one generation to another.

Women are exposed through social nurturing institutions to different effects: family represents one of the major channels of upbringing in different countries even in families that are not concerned with political issues; still it plays an important role in directing kids within the process of building up and developing their personal attitudes and norms.

The family is deemed the first social institution with which women co-exist and lives under its shade: it inculcates social and political norms therein. The family pedagogical style is patriarchal granting the father all authority within the family and offers him sovereignty over the management of its affairs and decision-taking.

Accordingly, we can say that the role of the family in formulating political self walks in parallel to its role in general upbringing. Political learning is a special form of social learning having similar patterns; still we must warn not to extend the reliance upon such similarity since there are reasons driving us to expect that families play a lesser role in political upbringing particularly that:

  1. A lot of roles and political relationships are only practiced when grown up. Most of the cases of individual’s political participation pertains to contemporary political issues, definite governmental arrangements and particular political groups and leaders. The stage during which man is in his utmost awareness and political participation is during the stage far from childhood which is privileged with the strong impact of the family.
  2. A family does not often pay heed to prepare its male and female children for political life as much as it is concerned with preparing them for other roles. Politics does not lie on the top of the priorities of Arab families. Similarly, political environment does not represent anything important or eminent for most of the children and youth.

For most families preparing children for family professional roles is deemed more important and of more priority than preparing them for political life. Most families exert clear effort to get children accustomed to self-reliance and performing different roles and preparing them for marriage and parenthood and upbringing them religiously.

Families like other social and political institutions qualify individuals to participate in political life: becoming a voter or a nominee or at least be concerned therewith. We may see that some persons do not venture to participate in political life because of norms and old traditions that drive him to pay no attention to political affairs. When a child is influenced by a particular political upbringing pattern, he passes through numerous stages to acquire knowledge of authority.

The existence of right political upbringing that directs the child in his early stages of life is an essential requirement needing political environment and will that helps in putting such process into effect in a right and effective form to make of him an effective individual in the society.

Women political participation

Women participation in political life is essential to accomplish the regime’s objectives such that participation is not restricted to males only but extends to include women on equal footing. Extending the participation basis enhances the principle of citizenship: rights and duties, including at the end of the path all social strata including women and contributes in all events to extend the rule of the legitimacy of the executive institutions representing political regime. Accordingly, the first step towards women participation is acknowledging her right of full citizenship with all its aspects and her equality to her male counterparts before law without discrepancy.

Political participation is nothing but a pattern of political cultural activities aiming at changing the existing political regime through a variety of methods: elections, demonstrations, petitions, and forming lobbies. The most superior form of political participation is electing male and female people representatives. The right of election is deemed a requisite of real practice of democracy; still we can find other methods like:

  • Occupying executive posts nationwide.
  • Exercising working in civil action and trade union associations
  • Signing petitions
  • Objecting to national, regional and international policies and submitting reports in such concern to competent authorities
  •  Political expression via media.

Means of political participation can be classified as follows:

Direct (preliminary) political activities including:

  • Occupying a political position
  • standing for election
  • membership in political parties
  • voting

Indirect (secondary) political activities including:

  • knowledge of public participation
  • membership in voluntary committees

Challenges of women political participation

Despite the development and progress of countries, women representation is still not adequate in most of world’s parliaments and in decision-taking centers. Despite discrepancy in the development of democratic exercising and advantages of every country, there are still fundamentals in common between most of the countries. Women participation is still a disproportionate representation. Moreover, women who decide to invade political arena are not welcomed in the political, social and cultural arenas and are faced with a huge amount of hostility. Some of such challenges are:

  1. Dominant machismo imposing guardianship and authority limiting women independence and their inability to express their independent point of view if it contradicts with family or husband opinion.
  2. Deeming such dominant culture the most difficult problem women face preventing them from participation in public affairs since it sees that women role is dedicated to her family only and deems political work and changing is a masculine role what lays all family burdens upon women shoulders.
  3. Women cannot participate in public affairs or standing for elections without family\ sect’s welcoming particularly that families and sects do not accept to be represented by women.
  4. Men mostly dominate political scene and issue laws of political game that matches their views and interests and determine the advantages of the regime. Such reality is down to earth leading to the existence of models in which males only dominated what resulted in political rejection of women participation in political life.
  5. Political factors play more important role than social factors in feminizing parliaments. The electoral system remains the decisive factor when comparing two countries socially and culturally similar. Proportional representation is the system that allowed women representation three or four times more in Germany than what was offered by majority system in Australia.
  6. Absence of coordination to force pressure in favor of women in the decision taking and training arenas: attracting qualified women to politics through granting young women at early stage the opportunity to prepare themselves in national groups and committees through training, experimentation and capability to coexist with the group and hence the ability to market ideas.
  7. The electoral system dominating in the present time plays an important role in women representation: it is clear from international experiences that proportional representation )quota) encourages and insures women representation more than the majority systems.
  8. Women linkage to traditional roles: traditional division in old and contemporary societies plays an important pattern, obliging women to play  the role of mother and worker at home, which is an ancient paternal and authoritarian norm defending a different sexual world that dedicates traditional cultural norms preventing any progress in women empowerment. In such environment, women are more capable of becoming “a working mother” with low wage and void of any political work. In other words: traditional rather than political role of women.
  9. Loss of self confidence: women are unable to be represented in political arena and parliamentary life unless they enjoy self confidence individually and collectively like men.
  10. Adopting prejudiced judgments that politics is a dirty immoral work; such notion contradicts with women confidence to step into political game. This directly affects women readiness to step into political work. Realistically, countries where corruption is less, the more the rate of women representation in elections, which is not a mere coincidence. That’s why in Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark deemed less corrupted, women representation is 30-43%.
  11. Role of media: media leans towards diminishing women events and is not concerned with women being the first victims of economic change and reform and being excluded from the process of political decision. Media also leans towards converting women role into a beautification tool for males and that the external appearance is more attracting than her intellectual qualifications and dedicates to the consumptive pattern socially embedded.
  12. Absence of political parties enhancement of women empowering to participate in the political scene.
  13. The viewpoint that women have got a special nature: there are no female cadres in the parties having the desire to stand for elections and political competition; women fear political work due to the offense they may be exposed to in addition to social and societal problems and the existence of political reasons that prevent her from getting adequate number of voters as a presidential candidate and some parties during the latest parliamentary elections  placed women at the end of the Party lists. Single-member electoral system is not available for women since they lack the same male chances to attract candidates; all this is fundamentally attributed to the societal look for women.

Accordingly, women themselves need to step into the political battle and ascend the ladder step by step. With the appearance of real and different models, societal point of view will change. Additionally, political parties need to establish female political cadres and even female cadres in societal leaderships”

How can women acquire political skills

  1. Political committees and institutions have to organize free training courses for female candidates willing to obtain technical support to develop their personal skills and raising their accrued knowledge of electoral environment legally, socially and politically.
  2. Organizing workshops for women work rapporteurs and alternate rapporteurs in governorates to publicize the Law of the House of Representatives, its competencies and roles. Such training shall be repeated on the local level in all governorates where every branch shall raise the awareness of its male and female members, committee pioneers and volunteering young women and men during the elections period.
  3. Continuing discussions on draft laws of high priority such as political parties’ law and emphasizing the necessity of women participation in leadership positions and political parties committees.
  4. Seeking media help in changing the stereotyped image of women and highlighting women as effective citizens having vision and ideas and capable of accomplishing accumulating achievements continuing on all levels: political, economic and social.
  5. Raising social awareness of the importance of women participation in political life through awareness-raising, training and education.
  6. Highlighting the contemporary roles of women particularly political roles in school syllabus and university curriculums.

Consistent with behavioral theories seeing that great leaders are manufactured step by step through continuous processes enhancing and refining their capabilities. Most of the study cases stressed that leadership women traits are not sufficient to put into effect their roles without the help of the surrounding environments. Social context plays a vital role in enhancing the requisites of empowering women and giving her the chance to be creative through her leadership or regular roles.

Leadership women traits in political work

  • Abundancy of a group of fundamental skills like analytical skills and capability of decision taking, social  and emotional intelligence, the ability to have effect upon others, listening skills and managing differences and numerous duties, balancing between life and work, negotiational skills, solving problems and talking publicly and ability to take initiatives are all skills required to achieve leadership positions. Although such skills pertain to both sexes and are not limited to females only still it was established that women can excel in special skills compared to men such as developing listening skills and balancing between life and work—
  • Abundancy of certain group of traits: open-mindedness, attractiveness, greater feeling of commitment, efficiency, firmness, insistence, persistence, truthfulness, creativity, intelligence,  straightforwardness, more accuracy in work, more logic, greater ability of communication and working with mates. They are also less hostile than men in general, less thirsty for authority, have higher morals and ability to manage numerous duties in the same time.

Political personal traits:

Leadership- frankness- humbleness- respect- knowledge- good knowledge of history, explanation of history and reasons- reasons of strength and weakness of democracies- knowledge of laws- a network of relationships- the ability to negotiate- high intuition- boldness in decision-taking.

Enhancing women leadership role through the following:

  1. Enhancing the process of democratic transformation and concepts of human rights
  2. Paying attention to disseminating the culture of democracy, non-discrimination, right to differ, diversity and acceptance of the other.
  3. Publicizing international agreements pertaining to women rights
  4. Acknowledging quota as a temporary procedure until people get accustomed to seeing women in authority
  5. Establishing a fund to finance electoral campaigns
  6. The importance of training women leaders.
  7. Importance of gathering between civil society activities (non-governmental institutions) and political activity through joining parties
  8. Importance of women concern with public affairs and general issues.
  9. Political awareness is an accumulative process starting at early stages.

Kuwait experience

Kuwait amended article one of elections law No (35\1963) by law No (17\2005) through which women received their political rights: right to nomination and election. Moreover, Kuwait worked upon withdrawing its reservation to Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; section (a) of article 7. Accordingly, four women succeeded to reach the position of deputy of the National Assembly in 2009, in addition to holding several ministerial portfolios or membership in Municipal Council. (Granting women their political rights contributed to the appearance of women block exceeding (58%) of the total number of electorates registered in the electoral rolls in 2006 parliament. Women represented 50% of the numbers of voters.

In 2012, elections witnessed three female candidates out of 13 reaching membership of the National Assembly; they obtained prominent positions at the level of their constituencies: Ma’asouma Almubarak, Safa’a Alhashem and Zekra Alrasheedy who is the first tribal candidate achieving parliament membership in a constituency known by mere tribal structure. In 2013 women occupied (53.12%) out of the total number of electorates (233 thousand and 619 female electorates) against 306 thousand and 96 male electorates representing (46.87 %).

Meanwhile women representation in the contemporary assembly was limited to two seats out of (5) female candidates. Kuwaiti women participated in the 2006 complementary elections: candidacy and nomination of the Municipal Council in which the first Kuwaiti woman passed the experience of the general elections after acknowledging women political rights. In addition, women occupied several leadership positions: deputy minister, deputy undersecretary, general manager or a manager in all fields of work.

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