FNC polls give women a chance to take stock

Female voters and candidates in the Northern Emirates discuss the issues affecting them and their families ahead of this month's elections.

Al Jerf Ajman , United Arab Emirates, Sept 12 2011, FNC Story- Manahel Mahmuod Bedah a FNC Candidate poses for a picture in her home in Ajman. Mike Young / The National
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SHARJAH // As FNC election campaigns near their end, female candidates and voters in the Northern Emirates are discussing how gender issues in Emirati society could be addressed.

Most female candidates say several laws affecting women need to be amended, including one that forbids Emirati women from marrying foreign men.

"If women cannot marry foreign men, it would be fair enough for men also not to marry them [foreign women]," one female candidate said.

Manahel Mahmoud Bedah, a candidate in Ajman, said she was disappointed that an increasing number of Emirati men were marrying non-Emirati women.

"I find it strange to hear some Emirati men giving excuses that Emirati girls need an expensive wedding," Ms Bedah said.

"Those men can buy a car for Dh70,000 in three days and they claim they cannot afford a wedding even with a full year's preparations.

"My advice to Emirati girls would also be to be moderate in their dowry demands. It's true most of them have high expectations from a man that would, at times, be unrealistic."

The engineer Khawla Abdul Aziz Al Norman, another candidate, said gender issues needed to be faced to keep families stable.

"Our Emirati family today has several problems …" Ms Al Norman said.

"The divorce rate is high and young men are no longer interested in getting married. All these need a comprehensive study of the causes to find solutions."

Ms Al Norman was one of the most active members of the Sharjah Consultative Council and had several proposals became law, including some concerning women.

One bill, on extended maternity leave, was signed into law in January by the Sharjah Ruler. Ms Al Norman also put forward a proposal to provide health insurance to all government employees in the emirate.

But she said her campaign programme for the FNC was broader than just gender issues.

Public housing, national security, education - especially incorporating Emirati culture into the curriculum - and health insurance for all Emiratis were all important, Ms Al Norman said.

With six female members, the Sharjah Consultative Council has been a voice for women's issues.

Amna Abdullah Al Shehhi, a candidate from Umm Al Qaiwain, said women had already achieved a lot, thanks to the good governance of the nation's rulers, and that was why she was running in the election.

"Some Arab women do not have this chance of participation and while I drive, others cannot," Ms Al Shehhi said.

"It's because of this - committed efforts to promote women - that people like are contesting."

Fatima bin Sandal, a female candidate in Sharjah, said progress was being made.

"The Government has taken a step forward," Ms bin Sandal said. "Despite the democratic process being new here, women have been allowed participation."

Female voters in turn have expectations for the candidates, including a commitment to promises.

"It would set a bad precedent if women FNC members abandon their campaign promises," said Lamya Mohammed, a voter in Sharjah. "So far all the promises are good but we only have one question: will they be kept?"

Maryam Sultan said some Emirati women were trying to distance themselves from women's affairs as a way of winning votes, which she found unacceptable.

"Some are saying they are not having gender issues as their primary focus, and others have all but kept everything about women out of their campaigns, claiming everything was fine with an Emirati woman," Ms Sultan said.

"I do not disregard their priorities but am saying if you are one of us, you have to represent us."