Despite the plethora of meetings held after publishing the outputs of the report by the Royal Committee to Modernize the Political System, which included 92 members from across the spectrum, and which came out with a set of recommendations aimed at contributing to stimulating the dynamics of public action, especially with regard to the participation of women and youth, these recommendations required a constitutional amendment to Article 6 of the Constitution, ensuring that the phrase “Jordanian women” appears alongside “Jordanian men” as a declaration of a change in the civil and political rights granted to women, as well as ensuring equality with men. The amendments also included lowering the age of candidacy for parliamentary elections to 25 years, and to 22 years in the elections of local administration institutions, as well as measures to ensure the relative increase in the contribution and participation of Jordanian women in the public and private spheres during the past year. However, only a small percentage of women have been able to reach decision-making and leadership positions in the public and private sectors, a much lower percentage than what was anticipated based on the National Women’s Strategy, studies, and international demands to raise the participation of women in strategic decision-making to 30% in both the elected and appointed councils, as well as in senior management positions. These demands come as a result of the high rates of female education and academic excellence in the primary and higher levels of education, in addition to their increasing participation and actual contributions in the labor market for decades. This calls for exploring and researching the reasons why Jordanian women do not get equal opportunities as men to reach political leadership positions, particularly decision-making positions.
Within the “Naqsh” dialogues series on WhatsApp, Al Nahda Women Network, one of the networks founded and launched by the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD), raised women’s political participation as a topic for discussion, a year after the launch of this vision and after the implications of appointing more women to lead political positions in the government -especially after the recent cabinet reshuffle- as ministers, in addition to appointing women through the quota system in the Jordanian Parliament and their appointment to the Senate, and whether these appointments reflect a real change in the attitude towards women’s capabilities, or whether they were merely made to satisfy a trend towards implementing the recommendations of the Committee without a real conviction by the decision-makers.
At this point, the answers given by the members of Al Nahda Women Network varied, but they all agreed that despite holding dozens of sessions that focused on the political reform document and the measures that were taken according to it, the situation remains quite frustrating with regards to women’s political participation, as it was limited to a small increase in the number of women in the last government reshuffle, while there was no real integration of women in decision-making on real ground, nor were they involved in handling sensitive issues. Furthermore, women weren’t even considered to fill the positions that became vacant during the past period. On the societal level, it was clear by looking at the leaders of the parties to be formed that there were no women in advanced positions in any of them. Moreover, the results of the elections of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry reflected the public attitudes, as they resorted to traditional leaders and names. On the other hand, the rates of crime and violence against women continue to rise, reflecting the vulnerable situation of women in general. The members of the network concluded that this situation does not reflect the reality, as Jordanian women have for decades proven their competence through their valuable and important contributions in all fields, backed by their academic qualifications and accumulated experiences, despite the various challenges they faced. Hence, decision-makers are obligated to take these facts into account, by providing greater support to women and expanding the opportunities for women’s political participation, as well as ensuring more access by women to political leadership and decision-making positions.
According to a group of members of Al Nahda Women Network involved in the media, one of them believed that women are still being excluded from administrative promotion to leadership positions in some institutions, unlike men. For instance, only one woman has assumed the position of Director General of Radio Jordan in 74 years, despite the recent appointment of a female journalist to head the Jordanian News Agency. Another media member of the network noted that the current political participation by women leaves a lot to be desired, as it relies on the moods and inclinations of the Prime Ministers, explaining that some governments had no women representation at all, and that female representative are always excluded from assuming key ministries, such as the foreign and interior ministries, for example. A third media member stated that the day we no longer demand equality is the day we will have succeeded in achieving it, and that a woman assuming a decision-making position is a great responsibility that puts her under scrutiny. Finally, she concluded by saying that any position held by a woman on merit is a source of pride for all women.
On the other hand, a former parliamentarian and member of the network considered that the demand for parity “between men and women” in leading political positions is an “elitist” demand by a specific group of women who do not originally support real women’s issues. Some activists in the field of women’s issues stop talking about those issues after they reach leadership positions, in addition to the declining trust in the public administration in general. Hence, what’s needed is to support women in all fields and to have spontaneous female representation in those fields, without conflict or resistance.
As for the members of the network who head associations and civil society organizations, one of them felt that the appointments had given a positive image of the political will to support women’s access to leadership positions. This is cause for optimism that they will have an imprint on supporting outstanding issues that violate women’s rights. Another member saw that the political will to enable women to reach political leadership positions is present and real, and that it’s depicted in this document. She also stressed the importance of the gains achieved, albeit there is still a long way to go.
One of the members, who is active in several fields, agrees with the idea that the temperament of politicians plays a role in choosing women for leadership positions, be that in official positions or even by involving them in elections and party work, pointing out that women’s access to leadership positions is the exception to the rule. Furthermore, the hierarchy of the State does not allow competent women to reach decision-making positions, even from a societal point of view, as the promotions in this field tend to depend largely on personal connections associated with the family system and its support. Another member, who is a former director in the banking sector, pointed out that the political participation of women and their appointment to leadership positions is a constant topic of discussion in the circles of women’s civil society organizations. She also expressed her opinion that the women’s sector is mainly responsible for the gap in communication channels and communication with the government. Finally, a member of the network who holds a leadership position in a medical institution attributed the appointment of women to leadership positions to the fact that they have proven their merit, rather than being the result of a general trend. She also stressed the need for women to have more confidence in their abilities and the importance of women’s support for each other.
Going back to the core question about the implications of women’s political participation for the decision-makers within the Royal Committee’s plan for political reform, there are two possibilities: The first possibility revolves around whether this reflects a real change in the mindset of decision-makers, by recognizing the capabilities and various contributions of women, as well as a commitment to implementing the outcomes of the Committee. The second possibility is to achieve interest-based acceptance for certain purposes, or impose that acceptance without a real conviction by the decision-makers, as it would mostly come in response to external requirements by the donors, or in order to fulfill a national commitment to international agreements signed by Jordan, which require the Jordanian decision-makers to appoint women to political leadership positions and to push for increasing the percentage of women in those positions to 30% in a gradual manner.
Through an inductive look at the public scene on the social and cultural levels, and over an appropriate period of time, I find myself leaning towards the second possibility, which is that allowing and accepting the active and qualitative participation of women in various economic, social, and political fields, as well as in the public sphere, is the result of a set of compelling facts, or rather facts that impose themselves with a force that cannot be ignored, which first consist of the data disaggregated by gender (male and female) and that are available on: the outcomes of school and university education, the quality of academic specializations and academic excellence, and the enrollment in educational preparatory and training courses, which tip the scales in favor of females over males. In contrast, the available gender-disaggregated data on economic participation indicate that the percentage of females in the formal labor market is very low, due to multiple reasons and challenges for which all efforts over the past two decades have failed to find solutions, and that a high percentage of females work under the guise of informal work and its various risks. With regard to women’s access to leadership positions, figures and reports indicate that the largest percentage of women are employed in positions at the bottom of the administrative ladder or in middle management, with very few women reaching leadership positions. As for political participation and access to senior political positions, these are more difficult and represent some of the most complex challenges.
The paradox lies in associating the claim that the plan will promote and support the political participation of women and their access to political leadership positions with the hopes and aspirations of women themselves, and considering this as an important opportunity that must be invested in and supported, in the belief that this access will reflect positively on improving women’s chances in accessing fair opportunities, as well as improving the basic services provided to women as a whole on more fair and equitable grounds, and that this will open the door for women in general to achieve broader economic, social, and political participation.
On the ground of reality, however, there is a double-edged problem facing women’s access to leading political positions or decision-making positions. The first aspect of the problem lies in the conditions associated with the need for women to be backed by an elite group, or to belong to a closed elite social class. This is something that will not be solved by a specific plan or strategy without a real will to change the balance of power and to achieve the representation of all segments of society. The second aspect of the problem is that the majority of women in this closed class do not really have a real and relatively long history in supporting and adopting women’s issues in all fields and on all levels, or even in providing real support and advocacy for issues that affect specific social groups and affect the improvement of their quality of life and their opportunities to access justice and equity in resources and active participation.
Hence, based on past experiences, several network members do not expect that the plan has succeeded so far in providing sufficient and genuine aid and advocacy that would push for improving the situation of women in society. Consequently, the rhetoric that the presence of the intention alone is sufficient to ensure women’s access to decision-making positions doesn’t stand here, nor is it enough to change or improve the situation of women in society for the better, or to push their issues and demands towards becoming a priority of the comprehensive national development strategy, based on the principle that women constitute half of society and have -legally and in theory- the same rights as men. Be that as it may, and in order to be more fair and compassionate to this certain group of women, it is necessary to mention that the majority of men who have held political positions and high positions in decision-making did not make any actual and real contributions to improving the conditions of citizens through the positions they held, nor did they help to lift them out of the problems and deepening crises in all sectors. It suffices to do a quick review of the tools provided by the document in its three main themes -effectively-, be they laws or space for party work, to realize that the achievements accomplished a year later are negligible.