Global Politics

An uphill battle for female politicians in Jordan

Arabic music plays outside a blue, red and yellow applique tent luring potential voters into the tent to meet politician Nuf al-Hadid from a Bedouin tribe.

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It's the kind that dominates Jordan's parliament. But al-Hadid says most members of the tribe reject her candidacy because she is a woman.

�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. They're supporting him because he's a man,� al-Hadid said.

She says she's fighting the perception among some members of her tribe that no woman should serve in parliament.

�It's been really difficult for me to face this,� al-Hadid said.

�But I believe it's possible to overcome obstacles. Eventually, they will get used to seeing me as a worthy candidate too. I recently had an argument with one of our relatives who tried to convince me to step down. I'm not running against the tribe, but for the benefit of women to achieve their rights.�

There is one thing sets al-Hadid apart from most of the 133 other women candidates. She wears the niqab � a veil that leaves only the eyes uncovered.

Westerners wouldn't probably think of a woman who wears such conservative garb as a women's rights activist. But al-Hadid says that's exactly what she is.

�I want to help women stand on their feet and say, �We are here. We want better economic, social and political rights,'� al-Hadid said.

�We want programs like microcredit financing projects and other employment opportunities for those who cannot get out of their homes. Queen Rania is our example. She is always supporting women and fighting on our behalf.

Women's rights are controversial in this conservative, tribal society. Up to 20 young women are murdered here each year by male family members in so-called honor killings.

Still, Jordanian women are generally able to pursue jobs in male-dominated fields such as medicine, engineering and business. This parliament will set aside 12 seats for women.

But al-Hadid wants to be elected, not because of a quota system but because of her years of community involvement.

�I am close to the people because I live among them and experience the same things they're going through,� al-Hadid said.

�I listen to their needs and want to bring these to the government. They're fed up with past promises that have gone unfulfilled by former lawmakers. They're looking for change.

Sound familiar?

Reporter Dale Gavlak in Amman, Jordan.