My Election Experience

Posted on 28 February 2011 by

By Saba Al-Asfoor
President, WLP Bahrain/Bahrain Women Association

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In the first elections in the Kingdom of Bahrain after the reform process at the beginning of 2002, I decided to join the electoral fray for the municipal council. These were the first genuine elections since 1973. I decided to use my experience as an activist for women’s human rights and environmental preservation to enter the election as a strong-willed woman competing against 12 men in a conservative traditional area consisting of group of villages. The community of these villages is known for their strong respect and unquestioning obedience for religious leaders’ opinions, or fatwas. In this election 31 women and 306 men were registered to compete for 50 seats for the municipal council.

I was aware of the unlikelihood of winning a Municipal seat, but this was not my main intention. I participated in this trial to prove that women can perform competently alongside men. In addition, I wanted to motivate other women to exercise their constitutional rights, and to express and defend their opinions. The election area I participated in was not where I was raised, but was my place of residence after marriage; therefore I didn’t have close relationship with the neighbors. On the other hand, I was well known due to my job as an engineer in a Governmental Municipality. My job gave me the experience of dealing directly with people’s problems, as well as an awareness of their needs.

I raised the slogan “Together .. for a better environment,” and prepared my election program with the support of my family and friends. I conducted my election campaign in a professional manner despite my lack of experience in this field. Moreover, this was a new electoral experience for the country, characterized by the scarcity of financial resources, as no funds could be obtained from the political NGOs. During my election campaign visits to my community I did not attempt to coerce them to elect me; my efforts were particularly focused on the importance of women’s participation in the municipal elections, because women often understand the needs of people more than men do. Women take the responsibility to carry their children to health centers, schools, and parks, and they do the household purchases at their surrounding markets. Therefore, a woman has the right to express her opinion from reality-based knowledge, needs and convictions, and not to merely accept what is being dictated by others. I visited some women in their homes to listen to their opinions, and to ask them to vote and express their views freely. I also accepted invitations to men’s campaigns – despite the community’s concern for such a practice – to exchange and share views about the elections and their ambitions for future.

During the election campaign I was able to maintain my persistence despite the challenges to reach the voters and the intensity of competition in my area. I was able to deliver to the public a success story about women’s ability to manage and compete professionally with men in the political arena, and to challenge them in public debates. At that time, women were the focus of media attention, and I was among the few who were requested to attend television debates and discuss their experiences.

As expected, I did not win a municipal seat, but I was not the least fortunate candidate. My rank was the seventh out of twelve. All those behind me were residents of the area, and well known for their social and political work. I did not come away from the elections empty-handed; I proved to myself that I had the ability to face this challenge, and opened new possibilities for women’s participation in politics. At the beginning of my election campaign, some women were keen to attend my meetings, and they often raised their concerns or questions in writing, rather than direct conversations. Questions like: how could I achieve the tasks I promised them? They also raised questions about the new government’s transactions to be adopted, and the reasons behind my participation in the election. On the last day of the election period, all the written questions by women turned into direct interventions.

During the election period I received a number of encouraging e-mails, one of those was from a women who expressed the following: “You don’t know how your experience had a deep impact on my life! You inspired me, the challenges you were facing in the community have influenced me to make an important decision in my life, Thank you very much.” I also received a letter from a woman from another Arab country who expressed her admiration for my role, as she had gone through a similar experience. In addition, I was called for an interview by one of the Ministers to meet me and listen to my views about the political situation at that time.

After the election, I conducted a study to outline the reasons behind the women’s failure in elections. I presented the study results in one of our neighboring countries under the framework of culture and knowledge exchange for women’s empowerment. Later I was promoted in my work based on the recommendation of the Minister whom I met earlier, noting that such promotion came after being marginalized just like other women engineer’s in a male-dominated community. After a short period I was promoted again to a higher administrative post in the same governmental body where I work, and am fortunate to be one of the few women in a prestigious managerial position.

The author is the president of WLP Bahrain/Bahrain Women Association, is a non profit organization dedicated to empowering women to actively participate in public life and to maximize their contribution to Bahrain’s democratic transition.

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