Will Iraq's New Quota System Give Women More Political Power?
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Women in Karbala “are well-known for their political consciousness, and the people here are quite confident in many of us”, Ismail said.
Not everyone agrees, and some believe that women will serve on provincial councils as figureheads only.
“I think that the women’s quota might help women who are not active and productive,” said Abdul Hasan al-Furati, a member of Karbala’s provincial council.
“Being on a strong list will pave the way for unqualified women to become provincial council members.”
Women’s advocates and politicians say despite the scepticism about their work, women may have greater impact by serving on provincial councils than in parliament, where many serve but do not necessarily have power.
“Women play more active roles [on provincial councils] than in parliament,” said Khawal al-Hasani, a member of Baghdad’s provincial council and chair of the legal committee.
Hasani said that locally women serve on a wider variety of committees than they do at the national level, enabling them to play stronger roles in impacting local issues. Female provincial council members can tackle problems relating to sewage services, education and the displaced, she said.
In past elections, voters chose political lists which then appointed leaders to serve. In the upcoming provincial elections, however, the candidates’ names are being made public and voters can elect individuals.
The public lists have been criticised for endangering candidates, but Jenan al-Obeidi, a member of parliament from the Shia-led United Iraqi Alliance, said the system enables women to “be in a heated competition with men”.
Lists must guarantee their women candidates seats if they win, which empowers women, Obeidi asserted.
“The women are now challenging the men on the [public] list because the female candidate who gets more votes will have a seat in the council,” she said.
But Azhar Al-Sheikhli, the former minister for women’s affairs, argued that even with the women’s quota, Iraq has “a long way to go” in bringing women to power.
She noted that India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh have had female heads of states, but in Iraq “we cannot see women becoming leaders of a major political party.”
Zaineb Naji is an IWPR-trained journalist in Baghdad. Emad Al-Shara, an IWPR-trained journalist based in Baghdad and Karbala, and Basim al-Shara, an IWPR-trained journalist in Baghdad, also contributed to this report.