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Palestinian women still underrepresented on electoral lists

Although the Palestinian electoral law has been amended to raise the quota for women's participation in the Palestinian elections from 20% to 26%, Palestinian women continue to be unfairly represented on electoral lists.
Staff of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission display electoral lists ahead of the upcoming general elections, at the commission's local offices in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, on April 6, 2021.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian women were remarkably present on the electoral lists of the Palestinian forces competing in the Palestinian legislative elections slated to take place in May.

On April 6, the Central Elections Commission published the final 36 electoral lists that have been legally approved to run for the Palestinian legislative elections. It further announced that 405 of the 1,391 candidates are women. This 29% representation of women exceeds the 26% quota set for women’s participation in the elections.

This proportion, however, may not guarantee that this number of female candidates will make it to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), may not enhance women’s political participation or may not exceed the elections threshold, according to the current election law.

The 2007 law regulates general elections (presidential and legislative) in the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority, based on a comprehensive proportional representation system, i.e., electoral lists, and whereby Palestine is considered as a single electoral district.

The edict was amended by a law issued on Jan. 11, 2021, providing for raising the quota for women’s participation in elections from 20% to 26%. This also applied to the number of women on electoral lists, which have to include 26% of female candidates to be accepted.

Palestinian women have been calling for a 30% quota that they believe would mirror the women’s role in reality.

Despite the remarkable presence of women on electoral lists, the amended law and the mechanism for calculating the quota seats within the lists will serve as a new obstacle for women to overcome the election threshold and make it to the PLC.

The new amendment stipulates that the representation of women shall be one woman among the first three candidates, one woman among the following four names, as well as one woman among the five names that follow.

In reality, however, some electoral lists may not reach the election threshold, which qualifies to win two seats in the PLC, according to the law. The list can also get five or six seats only, which means that female candidates on such lists would not have a chance to access the PLC.

Majed al-Arouri, a legal expert, told Al-Monitor that the amended electoral law raised the proportion of female representation to 26% of the number of candidates on the lists, which means it guarantees their candidacy only but not their election in the PLC.

Arouri explained that in case 10 small electoral lists managed to pass the election threshold, this means they would secure 20 seats for the first two names of every list. In other words, in this case, women have zero chance to be elected in the council.

He added that if five other lists won six seats for each list, i.e., a total of 30 seats for all of them, women's representation would be 16% based on the new amendment, meaning one among the first three candidates, a woman among the four names, a woman among the five names that follow and so on.

Arouri went on to say that female candidates have higher chances of winning within larger electoral lists such as that of Hamas and Fatah.

“I expect 10 women, more or less, to win on these lists [of Hamas and Fatah]. But with small electoral lists, women have a chance to win one seat only or no seat at all,” he added.

Arouri said that women are likely to be represented by 30 female candidates at best in the upcoming PLC, which is 22% of the PLC’s members.

A review of the electoral lists that are published on the Central Elections Committee’s page shows that among the 36 lists, only one is headed by a woman, which is the United Left list. Women came in second place in seven other lists, while the remainder of the lists followed the classification stipulated in the amended law.

This reality has pushed women once more to call for the quota for women to be raised to 30%, a demand that was approved by the Central Council of the PLO in its 27th session in 2015, in a bid to improve women’s chances to be elected in the PLC. But the decision has yet to be implemented.

Looking at the results of previous elections and the participation of women in them, we find that Palestinian women ran for elections for the first time in 1996 without a determined quota according to the 1995 Elections Law, which guaranteed equality between male and female candidates. This resulted in five women winning seats out of 88 members in the PLC, prompting them to demand that the law be amended and a quota for women's representation be passed, which happened indeed in the 2006 elections with a 20% proportion for women.

Yet the result was still disappointing, as the proportion of female participation stood at the time at 47% of the total number of voters, with 86 female candidates running for the elections — only 17 of whom made it to the PLC out of 132 members.

Siham al-Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Democratic Union, generally known as FIDA, and a feminist activist, told Al-Monitor she expected that women will only win 26% of the PLC seats, speaking of a defect in the law.

“The 30% quota suggested by the Central Council should have been included [in the amended electoral law], in addition to placing women among the first names on the lists,” Barghouti said.

She added that most of the electoral lists included female candidates just to be in line with the law’s requirement of the 26% quota, but without selecting these candidates on their competence or political empowerment that qualify them to enter the political arena.

Barghouti said, “It is not only a matter of defect in the law, but also an issue of general culture that needs to change and for women’s institutions to work on enabling Palestinian women to engage in political work, parties, and [be active] among voters and in the community as whole, and to [raise awareness] of the necessity of women’s participation in the political sphere.”

“Women’s names on electoral lists should not be merely for meeting the law’s conditions on the set quota, but should be based on women’s abilities and competence,” she added.

Rima Nazzal, a member of the General Secretariat of the General Union of Palestinian Women, told Al-Monitor that the discrepancy in the adopted quota for the lists reveals the flaw in the law.

“Electoral lists just sought to stick to the women quota required by the law without any real conviction to engage women in political work, in such a way to reflect their size on the ground and their active role among the rank and file of these parties and in the Palestinian street,” she said.

Nazzal went on to say that “unfortunately the presence of women on electoral lists does not reflect the parties’ traditional stance on women’s participation in politics. It rather reflects their views on women’s positions in the community.”

She, however, looks at the new quota from a positive view compared to previous experiences.

This raised proportion is the “result of ongoing work and pressure from Palestinian women’s movements and is a step forward, albeit slow, toward future change to real participation of women in all fields,” Nazzal said.

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