Women ready to play key role in political process

A woman will fill one in three seats won by any party in the elections held in Iraq tomorrow.

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BAGHDAD // Iraqi women will play a key role in the provincial elections due to take place tomorrow. National laws guarantee both the involvement and success of women candidates. Under election rules one in three seats won by any party must be allocated to a woman. While in practice that does not necessarily mean a third of the 440 council spaces will be occupied by women - the figure is likely to be lower for technical reasons - laws have ensured they get a prominent role in campaigning and in the future of local politics.

"The situation is better now for women wanting to get elected than it was at the last elections [in 2005]," said Ahlam Mohammed, a candidate hoping to take one of the 57 places on Baghdad's governing authority. "Women should have a say in the political process and I believe that women will be essential if there are going to be solutions to our problems." Despite the quota system assuring some women will take seats regardless of how many votes they actually get, Mrs Mohammed said Iraqi society still worked firmly to their disadvantage. "The social situation in Iraq means some women, certainly outside of the cities, won't be able to win enough votes," the 51-year-old said. "Some people are hesitant to give their support to a woman because they think politics isn't something we can do."

Mrs Mohammed, a mother of two from the Adhamiya district of Baghdad, said her campaign as part of the National Dialogue list had suffered sabotage. "I've had many problems," she said. "Some of my posters have been torn down because of my picture. There are people with a conservative Islamic view who don't want to see women's faces on posters." Iraq's most influential religious authorities have been at pains to support the involvement of women, issuing guidance that everyone has the right to stand. "That has been a great help there is no doubt," Mrs Mohammed said. "But some people still do not accept it."

Hana Majod, another female candidate in the Iraqi capital, said the quota system for women was an essential piece of legislation. "Women have suffered greatly from the dictatorships of men in Iraq and have been marginalised by our society," she said. "Guaranteeing women seats means that we will be able to demand our rights." As with hundreds of other candidates, Mrs Majod is standing for the first time and as an independent. Many have set themselves apart from the main political party groupings, which have become associated with corruption and ineffectiveness.

Mrs Majod, 47, a mother of four with a degree in English literature, said there had been no problems during her campaign, and saw the religious parties as playing a positive role in pushing female involvement. "I'm greatly encouraged that there will be a large turnout of women voters at the election," she said. "Iraqi women want someone to help end the injustices in their lives and they know that will only happen if women are there to represent them.

"They are tired of the failing provincial councils and they want to see a change. They want competent, educated people who will try to make things better. Iraqi women want someone who can help expand their horizons." Both Mrs Mohammed and Mrs Majod said they aimed to bring about long overdue improvements to the daily lives of Iraqis and were certain the democratic system was the only way that could happen.

"High unemployment and the lack of electricity are very important things to deal with," Mrs Mohammed said. "I also want to see an end to sectarian politics, and end to the laws that give each religious group a different quota of seats. Democracy is young here but it is getting stronger and I think these things will get better." nlatif@thenational.ae