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Lending a political voice

posted on 02/12/2006: 1678 views

Women have been called on to contest the first Federal National Council polls.

Involving women in public life is a positive force for change, officials say.

Female representation in the Electoral College is 1,189, around 18 per cent of the total.

General Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, has also called on women to contest the first Federal National Council (FNC) polls.

He said it would not be unusual for national women to win the elections and become active participants.

"Women are being encouraged to play a strong role in this election. UAE women have been an essential part of the economic, social and cultural advancement of this country. We hope a number of them will win seats to the FNC," says Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, Minister of State for FNC Affairs.

Quota system

Women are also likely to be nominated to the Federal National Council to ensure they are adequately represented if they fail to get elected in the forthcoming polls.

This quota system, adopted in many countries in Europe and Asia, will help create wider women's representation and participation in political life, says Dr Aisha Abdullah Al Nuaimi, a professor at the UAE University.

Voicing opposition to the quota system, Dr Gargash says it is likely that the rulers of the emirates would nominate women to the council if they are not elected.

He says the Gulf was strewn with examples of conflict, polarised parliaments and dogmatic governments, and the UAE has to ensure this is not repeated here.

The late Sheikh Zayed left little room for doubt about the UAE's strategy to encompass women in the political process when he appointed Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi as Minister of Economy in his Cabinet as a first step towards a larger role for women in their country's future.

Soon after this move, the seventh Cabinet of the UAE under the chairmanship of His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Defence, entrusted Mariam Khalfan Al Roumi with the portfolio of social affairs.

It is up to women to consolidate such gains and guarantee a political voice by participating in the FNC elections.

"Women should not play into the hands of those who would rather have them confined to their homes. All women and public welfare forums should come forward to help women play a constructive role in the development of the country," says Dr Mohammad Abdullah Al Mutawa, professor of sociology at the UAE University.

He adds the next phase will most likely be the cornerstone of political involvement, since the first elected FNC is an institutional council that will review the constitution and lay down guidelines for political activity and other aspects of life in general. It will also review social conditions to ensure more progress and prosperity.

Prominent social figures and institutions need to rally support behind this new line of thinking that envisions a prosperous new era in line with the aspirations of UAE citizens.

Dr Ebtisam Suhail Al Kitbi, professor of political science at the UAE University, believes that the pillar for a democratic system is the freedom to form parties to represent different parts of society, regardless of religion, sex or political affiliation.

"They also include participation in various social, political and civil areas, fair and periodical elections at all levels and for all institutions, transparency and accountability, to ensure integrity and combat corruption." A democratic system, she adds, should also establish balance between the legislative, executive and judicial authorities, respect human rights and maintain the supremacy of law and the constitution.

Dr Abdul Khaliq Abdullah, professor of political science at the UAE University, believes that allowing a small percentage of UAE citizens to vote, and giving 1,189 women the chance to participate along with 5,500 men, is by far better than no public participation at all. "Women had earlier been excluded from the FNC," he says.

UAE women have had the right to vote and be elected from the very beginning of the democratic experience, unlike women in many other countries who got these rights gradually and after lengthy and often violent demands. (Gulf News)


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