On Women in Jordanian Parliament

I don’t want to write an essay about history and future and present. I was simply looking at this chart from Roba’s blog, in a post entitled Let the Math Speak.

Afghanistan and Iraq, the two occupied countries, top the chart with 27.3 and 25.5% respectivly. Israel comes in 3rd with 15%. Jordan is at 5.5%

Well I’m not going to say this has anything to do with America spreading “democracy” in the region, especially since traditionalist Syria, a proud member of the Axis of evil, stands out with a 12%

But it’s funny because everyone looks at numbers differently. Sometimes we just look at them and get dissapointed but we make the same mistake other people do. We make the mistake of thinking that every Arab country has the exact same demographics, religion, culture and traditions as the next Arab country, when in fact each one has it’s unique set of circumstances. We should pay attention to this because we can’t always scream Bloody Murder (aka Women’s rights!) everytime we see such numbers. I know it’s the modern thing to do; feminism has become fashionable in Jordan lately amongst the more elite.

However there is a big difference between the following two situations which highlight women’s rights in the Arab world…

In the first situation women are not allowed to vote, they are not allowed to run for office or a parliamentary seat.

In the second situation women are allowed to vote, they are allowed to run for office or a parliamentary seat.

The second situation is what we have in Jordan since 1974. So why the 5.5 per cent?

Let’s do some math.

6 of the 110 seats are reserved exclusively for women in the Lower House by a special quota. This means the least number of women we can have in Parliament in any session is 6: hence the 5.5%

Let’s look at some facts from the last election:

Now around 765 candidates ran but this included only 54 women. This was actually an overwhelming increase from the 17 that ran in 1997, so you can imagine. Only 6 got seats and this was because of the enforced quota.

But this may blow your mind: the eligable number of voters in Jordan at the time was 2.3 million. However people serving in the armed forces are not allowed to vote (as to avoid a political army of sorts) and sense a great deal of our (male) population serves in the army in one capacity or another this means that women are actually the majority of the electorate. In other words logically a member of parliament cannot (or ideally should not) get a seat without courting the women’s vote.

So all this begs the question of: why don’t more women run? And why don’t more women vote for them? Social taboos? Political Apathy?

Ah but wait. The quota system was only meant to push women to participate in politics, women can also get themselves a seat without the quota. If they get more votes than their male counter part in a certain district then they win the seat fair and square. If they loose well the government collects all the votes of other women candidates and allocate them according to how many voted for them (i’m not sure of the math here) and essentially chooses someone to take a seat through the quota.

The quota system is one of those situations: by implementing it you recognise women as a minority and send the message that women cannot run or win on their own, on the other hand it is a form of positive discrimination that is meant to encourage women to vote and run. When it comes to the latter, well it made a big enough splash in the country.

I generally don’t like the quota system. It actually only ends up putting more people in parliament that are not qualified to be there! Forget about what gender they happen to be, the fact is if people go out to vote and they dont elect a women and the system ends up putting a woman they didnt want in a seat of parliament then this only makes matters worse. The quota was used once for the sake of encouraging participation and it should be removed for the next one. People should win on their own merit.

And this is heart of matters; people should win on their own merit. People should run and win according to the politics they have to offer and not their gender. Our population votes now purely on family (by tribe), on religion (Islam or Christianity), or origin (Jordanian, Palestinian etc). Only a small minority (and I mean small) actually vote on a political platform, and that’s IF a platform is available in the first place.

But to speak in a broader term, women have done little in parliament (for their causes) despite the quota. In truth the parliament all together is in terrible shape.

Anyways if women want to actually make a difference and push for their rights (such as an honor killings law) in parliament they need to allocate all their resources and efforts towards the masses and their constituency, not their government. Why not launch full scale programs to educate and inform female citizens about their voting rights and the need for them to vote? Programs to train potential candidates? Offer free courses for female students in Jordan at the Institute of Diplomacy.

I’m sure there are such programs (actually I’m just hoping here) but I figure since I havn’t heard anything about them they havn’t really been making much of a difference. Pushing the government to give them special treatment only worsens the situation, not only does it put more unqualified people in parliament but it makes the people resist women even more. Hiding behind the government security blanket is not a viable long term solution.


  • I have to agree with you Nas. Change in this regard must be real not illusory and enforced by the state. Quotas are a terrible idea.

    I hope it would not necessarily take the participation of women in parliament to deal with issues like honor killings, though.

  • samaritan, sadly when it comes to honor killing laws there is not a suffecient enough group to endorse such a thing. the king’s alliance and their opposition, the muslim brotherhood, can agree on one thing…no law against honor killing. they claim it will lead to a slipperly slope of social disintegration. they consider the status quo, the wrongful death of a few women every year, better than the possibility of a society where there was law that prohibited leniency on men who kill female relatives and therefore result in a state where girls are having free sex everywhere.

    ironically when it comes to the muslim brotherhood in jordan, the only parts of the quran they choose to ignore just so happen to be the parts that seek the protection of women (which is pretty much the biggest chunk of it). I’m guessing when they read the quran it involves a lot of white-out.

    thanks for the comment

  • “people should win on their own merit”

    I definitely agree, but the current system totally enforces the tribal mentality and approach, which tends to make it a tad more difficult for women to make it – even if they were superbly qualified. The people who are making it are getting there for reasons other than merit, so we might as well have it as accessible for women as it is for men.. so to speak.

    Anyways, I’m not that fond of the quota system, but I don’t think it’s right to be too idealistic in this regard.. because each place has its own circumstances and governing environment

  • Lina, in every parliament in every country, politics has to deal with the population’s mentality. While women participation in jordan is low, it is generally low in every nation i’ve seen. we are basically saying here that the quota is there because people don’t know any better (which like i said is true since no one is voting for platforms but it requires a different approach)

    this reminds me of my high school, in the 12th grade they decided to make student council elections “fair” and have a female and male student from every class. it was practically forced on everyone. what we had was the council doubling in size and nothing getting done.

    there’s nothing that i’ve seen which does not grant full access to a woman in jordan to run and get elected…the only that gets in her way are the people who vote for her

    or rather, those that dont

    thank you for your comment

  • â??people should win on their own meritâ?,true,but living in historically male dominant societies,I sometimes feel the least we can do is have the quota split in 50/50 shares.Call me ignornat,but why not?

  • salam, because making it 50/50 means we’re going backwards and not forwards. it would mean that it doesn’t matter if you vote for the puppet on the left or the puppet on the right…the government will just put 2 people: a man and a woman, despite if they actually won or not.

    we might as well call it appointment.

    all societies are historically male dominant.

  • Well Nas, if we take a look at the men in our parliment; they would fall in one of the following ranks:

    1- Head of a tribe and he ran because it is “wajaha” to be in the parliment. He has no politics background and some of them don’t even know how to read, they just happen to be the Sheikh or that tribe and got there because of his people.

    2- Ministers wanna-be’s: those are the worst – they pull all strings and do whatever they can to get a large number of voters on their sides. We all have heard about buying votes and “manasef” for this specific purpose, and since our people are not educated enough to elect only those who represent their needs and deliver their voice, they fall for this trap. What is even worse is that a large percentage of the educated community have lost hope and confidence in the whole thing and would not even participate in the elections which is a very negative thing to do, because they have allowed the incompetent to take the places of competent worthy individuals.

    3- Members of the Muslims Brotherhood: need I say how organized their tactics are? I remember some years ago, there were 2 tribe heads running against each other in our city, and there was a member of the muslim brotherhood running against them. At that time, people got to vote for 2 candidates (before the law on one candidate per voter). Members of each family wanted their own to win, so they would vote for him and the for the member of the muslim brotherhood, guess who won? both tribe heads lost and the other one won; how ironic.

    4- Members of political groups or “a7zab” and those have the support of their own people, but the strange thing is that a lot of men join these groups for the sole purpose of getting elected and becoming a member of the parliment.

    5- Members of the “khilf khlaf” group; they are against everything or at least that’s what they show

    6- Politicians who want to make a difference; errrr; where are they?

    So if you ask me; the whole system needs revamping and only competent people need to be there to make informed calculated well studied decisions, and when they state their opinions in any matter, to be one of value and not just following the crowds. I am a member of the community and I tell you that none of these people represent me as a Jordanian citizen and a very patriotic one for that matter. So before we talk about women in the parliment and their percentage and how they reach there; lets look at the big picture, because if the big picture is out of place, no matter how hard you try to fit smaller items in it, they will still look out of place and order

    The community shows little to no respect to women who speak their minds and who want to make a change. They are marked and classified as misfits, so I don’t find it that strange if such women did not put themselves through such agony. We need a lot of time to overcome our internal dificiencies and implement positive changes for the following generations ..

    Sorry for the long comment 😛

  • Let me provide a counter opinion to the no quota position.

    A low quota system does help woman representation, it helps women feel there is a chance for them to be elected and thus have more candidates so hopefully there will be some candidates that are better. Ofcourse, it is also possible that those who got in are not all that qualified, and I’m not in a position to compare their qualifications to those of their male counterparts.

    Having no quota at all can cause women to say from the get-go that they have no chance so why waste time and money on getting elected. And this way you lose the candidacy of qualified women who want to be elected.

    The low quota part is important because it means that there is some chance but you don’t give 50% of the parliament to women who have no qualification and might not even run if there was no such high quota.

    It’s a balance game.

    And a data point about Israel, the parliament itself doesn’t have any quota, but most of the parties do have an internal quota for women, Labour and Likud has for all I know. Meretz also. Other parties didn’t have internal elections that I know of.

    Interestingly enough, the arab parties do not have a women in them in a real position. One party had a women, the communist party, but she quit (I think).

  • Apologies in Advance this could be a long one!.
    Nas, I totally agree with you, and the reason is simple, if you decide to have an elected parliament then only one criteria should matter VOTES, quotas are no good.
    (You could argue about different electoral systems but you should never compromise the principle!)

    Lina, khalida, apologies if this sounds harsh but you are taking a very naive approach, if a women (or a supposedly well qualified person) is finding it hard to get elected then its their role and responsibility to work hard at ensuring his/her point of view comes across, in the end of the day they need to convince the electorate that their interests are served by him being elected, Full stop.

    Yes at this moment in time a lot of people have their alliances, but that should change through hard work, education and offering an alternative and not to mention delivering.

    If we allow our arrogance which leads us to believe that we know better (i.e. I could choose a better parliament, and god knows I am guilty as charged) to over shadow or influence the electoral process then we have already given up!. And quotas or even pre-qualifications are only a method for doing exactly that.

    A nation is only as strong as its foundations, any shortcuts taken today we will pay for them down the line.


  • I think the quote is a good idea in Jordan, because women need a small push to get invloved more in politics andit didn’t look like men were gonna provide her with this chance.

    What’s really strange is how some women are not helping much improve the woman’s situation in Jordan. some women in the Parliament voted AGAINST changing the honor killing law. Others have not gone to colege which is not always necessary but there’s nothing else impressive onn their CV.

    It’s harsh to say that but it looks like women in Arab Palrimants are used as a decoration to give a better look to the whole picture of democracy.

  • I think the quota should not be enforced by the law, but by the political (or tribal) platforms that are running for elections themselves.

    Maybe some kind of insentives can be found to give running platforms that have women in order to encourage them to have women run for elections, at the same time without giving anyone a free ticket to parliament.

  • Tribal mentality have nothing to do with the 5.5 it is the
    womens who are not supporting each others enough to get elected
    gouta system is insulting to womens intelligence.

  • You started off with numbers, so let’s take a look at them. Jordan has one of the highest rates of female education in the world, with over 90% of women considered ‘highly educated’. There are 6 women in parliament right now, with only 1 woman outside of the quota system. So the qualifications of woman are not translating into participation in both economic and political life. The disparity is apparent and effective policies must bridge it.

    Considering this, it seems extremely short sighted to suggest that women don’t have the ‘merit’ or knowledge to win elections. It is also wrong to suggest that they are not fighting hard enough to win. I’ve recently interviewed many women activists that have studied this issue extensively. There was a study that brought the following results: When asked if they would accept women in leadership positions? 70% said yes. However, when asked if they would elect a women? 30% said yes. This is what women are against. Removing affirmative action policies has a strong impact on the political culture of the nation. Women must believe that the state is with them and will encourage them. It is the preservation and growth of this culture that may overcome backlashes against women.

    What’s more, suggesting that all female parliamentarians haven’t had an impact in policy is common fallacy. We pose an irrelevant standard to suggest that 5.5% of the house convince the rest of the 94.5% to make substancial policy changes. It’s a double standard placed on women. We have very qualified and unqualified candidates in parliament that are both male and female – this is the nature of the electoral process, despite the gender.

    As for quotas undermining the nature of the democratic process, an important goal of democracy and the electoral process is to ensure a certain level of plurality. The presence of women candidates emphasizes this.

Your Two Piasters: