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A Jordanian woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Amman in this November 9, 2010, file photo.

A Jordanian woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Amman in this November 9, 2010, file photo. (KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP)

A Jordanian woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Amman in this November 9, 2010, file photo.

Jordanian female parliamentarians have come a long way in the ten years since the quota system was first introduced for the 2003 elections. Crucially, the quota system has succeeded in changing society’s attitudes, to the extent that women are now being directly elected to parliament without the help of a quota seat.

The idea of a quota system came about after no women were elected in the 1997 elections. The political leadership in Jordan acknowledged the importance of women participating in the House of Representatives, but all the early political experiments in the late 1980s and early 1990s demonstrated that women were unable to reach parliament through natural competition with men except for in isolated cases. Essentially, they were unable to get a finger-hold in Jordanian politics. The search then began for a suitable framework for women to be represented in parliament.

The quota system first came into force during the 2003 elections; six seats were allocated for women, and in 2010 that number was increased to twelve—one for each governorate in Jordan. This was then increased to fifteen seats in the 2013 elections, one for each governorate and one for each of the three tribal councils.

Insaf Al-Khawalida, a member of the current parliament, says, “Jordan is a conservative society, and throughout the history of elections women have only reached parliament without quotas on rare occasions.” She stressed that the allocation of quotas at the moment is both necessary and important in order for Jordanian women to participate in parliamentary life.

Samar Haddadin, a journalist specializing in women’s affairs for the newspaper Al-Rai, says that the allocation of a quota for women in the House of Representatives is fundamental and important in supporting the participation of women in political life and decision-making.

The law does not forbid women from winning additional seats: they can contest all of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives. Any woman who wins an unreserved seat does not take a place from the quota, but rather adds to the number of women in parliament. This happened in 2012, when four women won seats outside the quota system: Mariam Luzi, from one of the councils in the capital, Amman, Wafaa Bani Mustafa, from the Jerash governorate, Rida Haddad, who won a Christian seat in the northern district Al-Joun, and Rula Al-Huroub, who won on a party list in the center of the country.

Wafaa Bani Mustafa says that the quota is necessary in order for women to convince the public in Jordan of their capacity to perform well in the House of Representatives. She points out that she was first elected in 2010 to one of the seats reserved for women, and that thanks to her performance in parliament she was able to win an unrestricted seat. She says that the presence of women in parliament has become a national necessity for Jordan and that the quality of Jordan’s female parliamentarians’ participation was demonstrated by their record in parliament.

The secretary-general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, Asma Khader, emphasized the importance of the quota and the reason it was enshrined in electoral law: “The process of establishing seats reserved for women is positive discrimination, and most electoral systems in the world have adopted it to bridge the gap caused by excluding women from politics for many years.” She says that the quota aims to place men and women on an equal footing in elections and a fair chance to win seats both nationally and locally.

Khader, a former information minister, says that the quota is a measure recommended by international conferences and is fundamental in curing the imbalance caused by a society that is not used to women being present in political situations. The quota has changed the view of Jordanian society on the participation of women in politics, especially after 2003, when women first entered parliament using the quota. Insaf Al-Khawalida says that women have demonstrated their worth in previous parliaments, where their remarkable performances convinced many electors to change their opinion. Khader agrees: “The quota has proved beneficial, since the number of women in politics in countries who have adopted this principle has increased as well as public support for electing women.”