Palestinian Women Say Planned Increase in Legislative Council Representation Not Enough

The Media Line — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree this week, amending the Palestinian election law.

The amendments include an increase in women’s representation in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), in addition to holding three elections in succession, beginning with the legislative council vote.

The PLC election is to be followed by votes for president and then for the PLO’s National Council.

The amendment comes against the backdrop of the current national consensus, in particular between Fatah and Hamas, to hold elections after years of delay.

Additionally, it accords with the decisions of the Palestine Liberation Organization on raising the quota for women’s representation in the PLC, the unicameral legislature of the Palestinian Authority, whose activity has been suspended since 2007.

Hisham Kuhail, executive director of the Palestinian Central Elections Committee (CEC), told The Media Line that the increase in women’s representation is new, and was not included in the discussions among the factions in Gaza last November, who met to define the terms for holding the three elections according to the president’s vision that they not be simultaneous, as was set in the original law.

Women’s organizations lobbied for an increased female presence in the PLC, “and they have a document from the PLO to increase their representation by 30%,” he said.

Kuhail explained that, previously under the quota, 20% of the 132 PLC members were women, and the amendment has raised that proportion to 26%. “The new amendment didn’t stipulate percentages, but rather changed the place of women on the parties’ electoral lists. Meaning a woman among the first three candidates, and a woman among every four names that follow,” he said.

The amendment includes abolishing the requirement for candidates to adhere to the policies of the PLO, Kuhail added.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not members of the PLO.

Sabah Salameh, coordinator of the Al Muntada Forum to Combat Violence Against Women, told The Media Line that the increase in women’s representation is actually a “catastrophe,” because the Palestinian feminist movement and civil society for years have demanded that the quota for women be raised to 30%.

“We have a decision by the Central Council of the PLO that women’s representation will be 30%, in addition to agreements and understandings with all of the PLO factions that it should be 30%. So, there’s a big problem here,” Salameh said.

“We reject this stalling tactic and this policy of evasion,” Salameh said.

“In some Arab countries, such as Bahrain, there’s no quota system and women compete with men on an equal basis. I hope and aspire to reach this point.”

Haifa al-Agha, a former PA minister for women’s affairs who is based in Gaza, told The Media Line the increased quota, from 20% to 26%, is a step in the right direction, even though it does not fully meet the aspirations and needs of Palestinian women.

“Previously, we fought to have it be 30%, or to split the council in half, like our sisters in Tunisia, and why not? Women can now compete with men in terms of education, and females now occupy sensitive positions,” Agha said.

The amendment is not bad, but not what women have been working for over the years, she said. “We hope that the proportion goes up to at least 30%, and in the future to 50%,” she added.

Agha said she hopes that society will be able to move beyond its traditional and stereotypically negative view of women.

“In some Arab countries, such as Bahrain, there’s no quota system and women compete with men on an equal basis,” she said. “I hope and aspire to reach this point,” she said of Palestinian women’s representation.

The Central Elections Committee is set to meet no later than January 20 so the president can issue decrees setting the dates for the three votes, to be followed by consultation among all factions about the electoral process.

The last presidential election, which Abbas won, was held in January 2005. The last PLC election, which Hamas won, was held in January 2006. Palestinian National Council elections have never been held and most members were appointed by the PLO’s Executive Committee.

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