Nuf al-Hadid, a 50-year-old former school principal, says most members of her prominent Bedouin tribe oppose her decision to run for Jordan's parliament in elections on Tuesday and have pressured her to pull out because she is a woman.
In this deeply conservative desert nation of almost 6 million, family is everything. Yet rather than supporting her bid to become one of the few women in parliament, most members of her tribe want al-Hadid to stay out of politics and allow another tribesman to contest the seat she wants in the capital Amman.
"They have been putting heavy pressure on me to withdraw from the race and give way to one of the tribesmen, a former lawmaker, who is the other candidate in the family," al-Hadid told the Associated Press on the eve of elections. "I am not running against the tribe, but for women to achieve their rights."
Jordan may be viewed in the West as a moderate U.S. ally with a telegenic queen who, for many, epitomizes the modern, progressive Arab woman. However when it comes to elections, women are marginalized and the parliament is dominated by rural tribesmen who oppose many of the reforms women's rights activists are demanding.
Although 134 women are competing for seats in Jordan's 120-member parliament — along with 629 men — only a handful are expected to win. Currently there are just six women in the parliament, all selected through quota system that awarded the seats to the top female vote-getters. None would have won on their own.
Women in Jordan do hold senior government posts and run their own businesses, and many others work as doctors, engineers, traffic police, television anchors and pilots.
Her predecessor, the American-born Queen Noor, also worked hard to promote the role of women in Jordanian society.
Activists say, however, that while some headway has been made, women still have a long way to go to get their full rights.
Women in Jordan cannot pass their nationality on to their children and need a male co-signer to apply for a bank loan. Up to 20 women are also murdered every year for allegedly having illicit affairs in so called "honor killings," in which male family members feel that the honor of the tribe can only be restored through murder.
Asma Khader, the head of Jordan's National Commission for Women, said there has been some progress, including a new family law that establishes an alimony fund for divorced women and their children. But the law still fails to recognize joint guardianship for children and shared ownership of property.
Khader also maintained that Jordan is a leader in the region for women's education.
"This is very good because it is the key to other rights," said Khader, a former information minister who is helping women candidates with media training.
She predicted that women would win at least three seats by direct vote in addition to the 12 automatically alloted by a quota — up from six in the 2007 election.
Even after her own party, the opposition Islamic Action Front, decided to boycott the election, tribal elders urged her to run.
"Women should demand their own rights and then the tribe will follow," she said. "This is a society that doesn't give you something for free. You have to start and you then will receive support."
The only woman to ever actually be elected by popular vote to Jordan's parliament back in 1993, however, has dismissed the upcoming vote saying it lacks credibility because of the opposition boycott.
Toujan Faisal, who has been banned for life from politics because of her vocal attacks of corruption and nepotism in the government, criticized the performance of past women lawmakers saying that they had done little to advance the women's agenda, let alone tackle critical economic issues.
"We need basic reforms. The economic situation is dangerous. People don't have enough money to eat or buy medicine," she said. "The government is just trying to have a facelift."
Source: AP News