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This is an archived article published in March 2004
Women vastly underrepresented
in Middle East local government

The International Union of Local Authorities (IULA) reports that the Middle East had the lowest representation of women in local government of all the world regions, with cultural, religious and, in some cases, legal barriers to women’s participation in politics. Key priorities for IULA’s Global Programme are therefore developing partnerships and alliances in the region, establishing a network of local elected women and an awareness building.

The IULA is the oldest and largest global local government association. Founded in 1913, IULA has local government members in over 100 countries across the globe in all regions of the world.

Local government in the Middle East is generally not organised in national associations, so reaching a significant number of local governments is a challenge for IULA-EMME, the IULA Regional Section coordinating the Global programme in the Middle East. Ferzan Yildirim, Global Programme co-ordinator for IULA-EMME, recently visited Jordan, Syria and Lebanon to develop alliances and gather information on the status of women in the region.

In Jordan, efforts to increase women’s participation in politics are gradually being made through a quota system, resulting in the election of six women members of parliament out of a total of 105 in 2003, and one woman cabinet minister.

Local elections also took place in 2003, but none of the women candidates was elected mayor and only five women councillors were elected to the 554 municipal council seats. Jordan has a system of both elected and appointed seats however, with each municipality appointing one woman member, resulting in 99 additional women councillors, and one woman mayor.

Syria has a National Women’s Strategy, which aims to increase women’s participation in national legislative, executive and judicial positions to 30 per cent by 2005. In the parliament, 30 of the 250 members are women, and 2 of the 33 ministers.

At local level, the percentage of women elected to councils, compared with those nominated, is quite high. In 1999, 879 women were elected out of 2000 female candidates. However, the overall proportion of women councillors of the total remains low at 6.6 per cent. This indicates that the low involvement of women may be due not to the electoral process itself, but to the willingness of women to participate in politics.

Although there are no legal constraints to women’s participation in politics in Lebanon, the level of involvement remains limited and low, and the absence of effective political parties and election laws are obstacles to women’s participation in political life. At the last general election only three of the 11 women candidates were elected as members of parliament and there are no female ministers or high-ranking judges.

In the 1998 local council elections, of the 353 women candidates who stood for election, 139 were elected, two of them as heads of the municipality. Of 708 mayors in Lebanon, three are women.

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