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Youth Related Views on Female Political Participation in the Arab World Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by May Fawaz, Lebanon Sep 11, 2005
Human Rights   Interviews
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In June this year, Maasuma Al Mubarak, a professor of international relations and a staunch women’ rights activist, was appointed minister of planning and administrative development in the Kuwaiti cabinet. Mubarak’s appointment came one month after women were granted full political rights in Kuwait.

The appointment of Mubarak is one example of the measures taken by many Arab legislatures in support of gender balance. It is indeed a breakthrough in a society as traditional as Kuwait. Although hailed by many, however, it raises a question on the actual status of female political participation and gender equality in the Arab world. Why was it so difficult for a woman to access office in Kuwait? Why did it take so long? And is one woman in cabinet enough to establish balance of roles in the decision making process?

Mubarak’s story illustrates the obstacles women have to surmount in traditional societies. It is almost the same in most countries of the Arab world who share a culture of parochialism and male domination. Discrimination against women in this area of the world is deeply rooted and gender imbalance dramatically persistent. A chat with youth from 4 Arab countries, namely Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia, helped elucidate a few facts about female political participation in their countries. While such participation differs in slight degrees between one country and the other, a common factor exists in all four: in politics, women do less than men.

Youth related views

Question 1: May from TIG: It is known that women in Lebanon have been able to attain high positions in many sectors and women employment is on the rise. How come it is still very low in the political sector?

Answer 1: (Layal, female from Lebanon): that’s true, regrettably. Women still have a long way to go. In the last elections held, parliamentary seats occupied by women did not exceed 5 out of 128 seats. Only one woman was appointed minister. It’s all in the culture, I guess. Women have always been considered weaker in several aspects and their role confined to house work and children rearing. In recent years, more women have completed university education which, along with severe economic conditions, helped them join the work force more vehemently. Although this has been the case in many spheres, women still need time before they can be political decision makers equal to their male counterparts. Prejudices are deeply rooted and women are still considered incapable of handling tasks that men have been known to handle.

Answer 2: (Latif, male from Lebanon): I don’t think women need to do men’s work! Why can’t women understand that they are not equal to men? Evidently, they are physically weaker, they bear children and they are more sensitive. It is not easy for them to do deal with political and strategic issues. It’s not easy for them to go to war, to punish, to kill; moreover, they can’t keep secrets. Thus, they should not indulge in politics.

Answer 3 (Layal, female from Lebanon): It is obvious that you have prejudiced ideas. Have not women ruled in history? Haven’t you heard of Queen Elisabeth, Victoria, Golda Meir, Margaret Tatcher, Hanan Ashrawi?

Answer 4 ( Latif, male from Lebanon): Of course I have, but how many are they? Do they barely make 1% of decision makers?

Question 2: May from TIG: Any way, we’ll come back to this point at a later stage. Let’s ask Hanan from Egypt: do women face similar conditions in your country?

Answer 2: (Hanan, female form Egypt): Yes, they do although I must say that people in Egypt, on the whole, have started supporting the promotion of gender balance in political life. We have quotas which guarantee female participation in government. However, women have to compete directly against men as a result of the constituency based system. We live in a conservative and parochial society which makes it very hard for women to prove themselves as strong competitors to men. What women are trying to do nowadays is align themselves with other voices that call for political and social reform that should take shape through affirmative action.

Answer 2: (Eman, female from Egypt): We have to admit that the Mubarak regime and the National Council for Women have offered us opportunities to work towards improving female status in Egyptian society. Women are now able to pass on their nationality to their children. The law of divorce is also modified to women’s favor. However, more work needs to be done.

Question 3: (May from TIG): It would be interesting to know what the situation in Yemen is like.
Answer 3: (Ihsan, female from Yemen): Female illiteracy in Yemen is over 90 per cent. Yemeni girls don’t have time to complete primary education. Rather, they spend it doing daily housework. Thus, it is very hard for women to participate in voting or in office. Moreover, there are erroneous Islamic conceptions used against women, which prevent them from being active participants not only in the political era, but also in other sectors of society. Simply, there is no democracy in Yemen, and it will never flourish unless attitudes and beliefs change.

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