[11/September/2005] by Abdul-Salam Al-Korary.
Dr. Belqis Abu Osba'a ,a Prof. Of Politics at Sana'a university demanded the political parties encouraging woman and pushing her up in the decision making process via quota system with a 30% as a minimum percent.
Dr. Belqis said , in an interview with Sabanet , that the first democratic forum of the Arab Woman, held recently in Sana'a, had stressed on a necessity of adopting Quota system. Though Yemeni woman had stepped forward better than her parallels in some Arab countries, Yemeni society experiences a contrast between the constitution, which overtly backs up a woman, and old- fashion social traditions, that used to restrain woman's role in the political activities. Moreover, political parties are interested in the woman as a voter but they had never given her a high profile as a candidate. Said Dr. Belqis.
She added that Yemeni woman political participation had come down in the elections of 2003 and 1997, comparing to 1993. Hence, women had worked on a draft bill of the quota system suggests 30% of the seats for women.
Hereafter, is the full text of the interview.
Sabnet: What did the first democratic forum of Arab woman, held recently in Sana'a, come out with ?
Dr. Belqis: Generally speaking, the conference that more than 17 Arab states had taken part in its activities had offered a good opportunity for Arab women to share experience and views on the political reality of the Arab woman. It was had apparently that the political situation of the Arab woman is quite similar in all Arab countries, even though there is slightly difference in some features of the social reality like the percentage of illiteracy. But Arab woman's concern is the same in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen or Gulf states.
The conference had come to the conclusion that it is so imperative to push the woman ahead for the decision making position to make her a genuine and active partner in the process of decision making :politically, economically and socially.
The conference held under the motto ( Women Political Empowering ) and the final outcome it had strongly emphasized on was that quota system should be applied so as to allot 30% for women in the elected bodies and the position of decision making as the UN had suggested as the minimum percentage. The quota system had already been adopted in a number of Arab states such as Gordon , Morocco and Sudan.
Saba: Quota is being received some opposition?
Dr.Belqis: Yes, some people stand in favor of it and others are against. However, in my point of view, there are several considerations for embracing the quota. Firstly, justice is very necessary in the society that women makes up more than 51% of its inhabitants. Consequently, women need to be represented. Secondly, woman's interests affected negatively for not defended by women themselves. Women’s do know their own problems and needs better than men, therefore, why do not stand for their rights themselves!
Q: But quota might restrain women aspirations?
A: We are a traditional society with a higher percentage of illiteracy among women - particularly , in the rural regions. It is not an easy task for a woman to compete with a man in such conditions. Thereby , quota is a positive alternative temporarily. When the society became familiar with woman's existence in the position of decision making, quota system could be repealed.
Q: Why doesn't a woman contest to attain the portion she deserves?
A: We do not deny that woman in Yemen has made some steps forward comparing to her analogues in several Arab countries. Yemeni woman has actually made great strides. She is now a minister, ambassadress and holds various high rank positions. However, we are not satisfied with the number of women in the positions of decision making. One woman out of 25 men in the cabinet, certainly will have no influence. A single woman in the parliament out of 301 MPs would never be able to bring forward women’s issues and stands for them.
We are seeking to multiply the number of women in the high ranks positions in order to have a genuine influence and active role in the process of decision making and the development drive.
Q: Woman's interaction is quite feeble! Why?
A: There are many factors beyond woman's weak participation. The high rate of illiteracy among women usually curbs woman's active participation in all walks of life. Thus, old- fashion social habits and costumes discourage woman and get her disappointed.
Yemeni society has been undergoing two contradictory situations.In one hand, there is the constitutional and legal terms hold up woman, on the other hand, social traditions and norms prevent woman's active participation
Q: You said that Arab woman situation is quite similar, even though a number of Arab countries had made wide strides in the educational sector! How is that?
A: Definitely, there is quite range of disparity from one country to another. For instance, the illiteracy percentage in Lebanon and Tunisia, however, Arab woman position and role in the process of decision making is the same.
It is true there is slightly difference between Arab woman situation in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco and her situation in Yemen and the Gulf states. But, in the political domain there is no actual gap between Arab woman’s cases around the Arab world.
Q: In your former statements, you said that Yemeni woman's political participation had decreased! How did you come to this conclusion?
A: Since the unity Yemeni woman given much more opportunities to share in the development process. Hence, she has been appointed in several high rank offices. However, this quite performance is still insufficient.
Furthermore, Yemeni woman political participation had eventually retreated. If we go back to the parliamentary election in 1993, we find women’s participation was better than it in 1997 and 2003. For example, in 1993 there was large number of women’s candidates comparing to 1997 and 2003. Thus, two women had managed to reach the parliament in 1993 and 1997. In 2003 the number reduced to a single woman. So, we do fear that woman might be disappeared in the next election. In addition to the above, there are merely 38 women against 7000 men in the local councils. This is actually very negative indicators on women’s participation.
Q: What are the reasons?
A: Hopes were hung on the political parties to encourage woman and promote her participation. Unfortunately, it turned out that all parties are interested in the woman as a voter but they never want her to be a candidate.
Woman's existence in the higher leaderships of the political parties are too limited. For instance, there are 4 women members in the central committee of YSP and 5 women in the general committee of PGC. The supreme leadership of the Yemeni Grouping for Reform is devoid of women justare 11 women members in the Shura Council of the party.
Q: Why doesn't the woman have an active role within the political parties?
A: There are many factors retrain woman's work. The political parties should encourage woman and push her up. Some of the progressive orientated political parties nominated a number of women to contest the parliamentary election, but those women candidates faced fierce competition by other leading parties.
For instance, Mis Radhia Shamsher, an outstanding woman of great potential. She could be a prominent MP, if she had been given the chance.
Unfortunately, she was nominated by a progressive orientated party, but another leading party nominated an influential man against her. It was an intentional exclusion. The People General Congress declared it would nominate 10 women candidates before the election of 2003, afterwards one single woman was named. Political parties have no orientation to support woman. This problem is an Arab common concern.
Q: What’s your assessment of the woman's current performance in the processs of decision making?
A: Absolutely, woman's role in the process of decision making currently cannot be effective due to her feeble existence in the institutions where decisions are being made. What can a single woman do in the parliament of 300 MPs or What can she do in the cabinet where she is one out of 25 ministers! But if there 50 women in the parliament, when they put forward an issue pertaining to a woman , definitely it be backed up.
Q: What about the NGOs which are concerned with woman's issues?
A: The NGOs have become of high significance in the age of globalization.
They had come into existence so as to complete the state's role but not to replace it. This era is said to be called the civil society organizations century. I disagree with those who are against the NGOs.
Q: Some say that the NGOs in our country are seeking for external support?
A: I do not agree with this. The NGOs role is still an emerging and ineffective however it is an important. The NGOs are not funded by the government therefore they receive an external assistance from the concerned international organizations. Though civil society in Yemen is an emerging there are more than 400 centers out of which five are eventually active.
I do believe that NGOs have done quite well ,even though, if they had to appeal to the international organizations finance. It is true that some NGOs used to arrange forums, workshops and conferences in order to secure the external fund, however suchlike functions are useful for the society.
For instance, the first democratic forum of Arab woman organized by (Montada Al Shaqaeq) one of the civil society organizations. It was a very fruitful function ; who did imagine that we would discuss the quota in Yemen unless the NGOs raise such issues. Do you think the government will gather women to tell them that it shall have to embrace quota !
Q: What is the practical measure you had taken to bring about the quota system?
A: We had prepared a study on the quota system. The study’s recommendations included a draft bill for applying the quota. This is the available and reachable way for us for the time being as it is too hard to demand a constitutional amendment. As you know, the constitutions had subjected to three amendments so far.
Thus, it is not an easy task to change the law of election from its instant module into the proportional list. Such change is due be a controversial issue might stir up a large scale of disputes among political parties about who would benefit from such shift.
Thereupon, we had suggested a draft bill entitled the Quota Law. The draft bill suggests 30% of the seats for women. The bill also enforces the political parties to share women in this proportion.
Q: How about the parties reactions to the proposal?
A: We have involved in dialogues with the different opposition parties and the ruling party (PGC). Thes dialogues and debates aiming at issuing an honorable pact to energize the quota system proposal. We are optimist and we do hope for getting this system come into its force, therefore we will keep on our contest toward this end.
Of course, we are fully aware that we have to study the social reality of our society. We should not be in a hurry lest not to jump up over the reality. after we had already conducted several studies on this issue , we came out to this conclusion that there is no other way to empower woman in the process of decision making but to put quota in practice.