Throughout the MENA region, politics is viewed as the domain of men. The traditional norms and codes of conduct for women do not match the role and functions of public office such as political election – to form and express opinion in public, to expose oneself to public attention, to lead, argue, decide and represent. Moreover, the area of politics generally holds a low status in many Arab countries as politicians for decades have been associated with corruption, fraud and power obsession.
So, despite some progress in women’s opportunities for political participation as voters, candidates or members of elected bodies, recent political developments in many countries in the MENA region have also entailed a backlash for women’s political representation, participation and leadership. The rise of political Islam in a conservative form has put renewed pressure on women, not least in rolling back existing rights and gains, as well as to refraining from pursuing further political rights and participation.
The thematic area, Women’s Political Empowerment in KVINFO’s work, is to be understood on many levels. One is the legal framework and the structures that are an essential condition for progress in the field – including constitutions and electoral laws, but also the patriarchal structures and mechanisms within the existing political parties and bodies. Another level is the women running – actually or potentially – for political office in parliament, local councils and labour unions. And a third level entails the general awareness aimed at a wide range of target groups – regarding the general population as informed voters – meaning that the vote they cast is based on an informed decision making process and not dictated by relatives, tribal leaders or local people with influential standing in the community.
KVINFO works with political empowerment of women wherever feasible, and a wide range of methods are applied, as the nature of the projects is determined by country specifics and political developments. Some examples of how the work is conducted are capacity development and training of female political candidates, mentoring courses, political awareness-raising among the general electorate, advocacy targeting lawmakers and opinion-formers and shadow reporting.
KVINFO’s activities under Political Empowerment take place in Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan.