WOMEN IN THE ARAB WORLD GET ORGANIZED
"In Kuwait, women are breaking down barriers"
Mrs. Rola Dashti holds a PhD in Population Economics from John Hopkins University (USA). Elected Chairman of the Kuwait Economic Society (first women to chair the society since its establishment in 1970), she is also a member of the executive committee of Young Arab Leaders (Kuwait Chapter). President of the Women's Network in Kuwait, Mrs. Dashti ran for the elections which took place in Kuwait last July. She explained to The World of Parliaments why no woman was elected to parliament. Interviews
Q: Why did you decide to stand for election to parliament?
As a woman activist who has been fighting for years to grant women political rights, there was the issue of defining democracy in Kuwait and advancing it in the region with women's involvement in public life. It was our main political goal. Having women in parliament was the second step for me. One of the purposes of my candidature was to encourage women who are capable to come forward and to be engaged in the political process.
Q: What difficulties did you face?
First of all the short period for campaigning - 33 days - was challenging. The second thing was the negative cultural and media attitude towards women in politics. The fact that they said: "this woman does not know politics; it is her first time; she has to run a couple of times until she gets in; no woman will win", made an impact. Because the more you say that no woman will win, the more it will influence the voters and affect the voting process in terms of voting for a woman. People think: why should I waste my vote? Then there are the ideological differences. The patriarchal and traditional conservative and extremist Islamists don't see a role for women in political life. They were an obstacle in terms of discouraging their women from voting for a woman, because their role is not in the political process, they said. There were also false rumours, untruths and allegations against women candidates and the attacks on their banners, publications and posters. Some women lacked training and there was also political corruption in terms of vote-buying, which also affected women in taking up this big challenge.
Q: What next for the women in Kuwait and in the region?
We do think that women will be part of the political process and will be elected to parliament, because this is the social dynamic we are working towards. On 25 November, there will be elections in Bahrain and we will reinforce our support network. I will go to Bahrain with a group of people to assist the women candidates, to share our experiences and to eliminate some of the negative experiences we went through, so they can overcome or be ready for them. The more we unite as a network of women in the region, the more quickly we will advance. In Kuwait, women are breaking down barriers. Some positive things have come out of the elections. The turnout of women voters was very high, comparable to that of men and the number of women who ran was unexpectedly high. The experience transcended different ideological and social backgrounds. Women brought to the campaign a gender dimension and issues important to them, and forced men to adopt them.
Conference for women in decision-making positions in the Gulf Cooperation Council States
Although the percentage of women in parliament in the GCC States is one of the lowest in the world, awarenessraising and mobilization campaigns have been stepped up in recent years with an ever increasing number of initiatives and events on the issue of women in politics. Despite the results of the latest elections in Kuwait where no woman candidate was elected to parliament, women continue to apply pressure and all eyes are now turned towards Bahrain's forthcoming elections in November. In preparation for these elections and in order to keep the momentum going, women in decision-making positions in the GCC States - ministers, parliamentarians, candidates and researchers - met in Manama in July 2006 for 2 days of debates. Organized by the Shura Council of Bahrain and the IPU, women from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia debated the challenges faced in running for election as well as mechanisms that could promote women's participation in politics.
Mobilization of Algerian women in view of the forthcoming elections
The Algerian Parliament, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNPD) and the IPU, organized a meeting of Algerian women parliamentarians to discuss mechanisms to promote a more balanced participation of men and women in politics. In order to benefit from the experience of neighbouring countries, close to 40 women parliamentarians from seven countries of the Euro-Mediterranean area were also invited to attend the two-day meeting. During the debates, participants discussed the role of women in politics, particularly in the Arab world, and ways and means of strengthening their involvement in political life. The following themes were covered: the opportunities and challenges of political representation facing Arab women, participation of Algerian women in the political arena and experiences of other countries, mechanisms to promote women's participation in politics and the role of political parties.
FOR THE FIRST TIME, UK HOUSE OF LORDS HAS A SPEAKER
For the first time in history, the United Kingdom House of Lords has a Speaker. On 28 June 2006, Rt. Hon. Baroness Hayman was elected as the first Lord Speaker of the House of Lords, by a secret ballot of all members for a five-year term. On 4 July, she replaced a government-appointed Lord Chancellor and head of the Judiciary. "This is a tremendously exciting new role for me because there is an awful lot of history to sitting on the Woolsack, and it is a great privilege. Obviously I am not doing it as the Lord Chancellor, but there has never been a woman in this role before and that is an enormous privilege", said Lady Hayman in an interview to The House Magazine.
The primary role of the Lord Speaker is to preside over the proceedings in the House of Lords. The Lord Speaker is also expected to act as a non-political spokesperson for the House at home and abroad. A former Minister of State at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Baroness Hayman said that there was an important job to be done as external ambassador for the House.