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Women face uphill battle in this week’s Jordan elections

November 2, 1997

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) _ Jordan’s only elected woman lawmaker recalls the day a Muslim fundamentalist leader offered her a free wardrobe if she only would wear a veil as observant Muslims do.

And the day she was speaking out in parliament against corruption when a conservative tribal leader hurled an ashtray at her.

Toujan Faisal refused the clothes and the ashtray missed. But the message in both cases was clear: Women should carry on tradition and leave politics to men.

Once again, the 48-year-old Faisal is ignoring the message. She is one of 17 women among 535 candidates running in Tuesday’s parliamentary election.

``It was an arduous and painful path, just like a garden full of prickles,″ Faisal told The Associated Press. ``But I know I am daring, and very few can do what I do.″

A former television talk show hostess, Toujan first ran for office in 1989. She lost after her campaign against polygamy drew calls for her blood from Muslim fanatics; Islam allows men up to four wives at once.

She won her 1993 parliamentary race on a platform of women’s rights and created a stir in the House of Representatives by challenging King Hussein’s constitutional right to dissolve the body. Her case, however, was thrown out of court.

If re-elected, Faisal said she will fight discriminatory laws, such as a law preventing the children of women government employees from receiving their mother’s pension if she dies while still employed.

Despite her firebrand appeal, Faisal and other women in politics find public acceptance difficult to come by. Some members of Jordan’s most powerful fundamentalist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, urge firing women in government jobs and replacing them with men to ease male unemployment.

The challenges are similar for women elsewhere in the Arab world. In Egypt’s 1995 parliamentary election, only six women were elected to the 454-member house. President Hosni Mubarak appointed four others later. Three women serve in Lebanon’s 128-member parliament. In Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, women cannot vote.

Jordan’s King Hussein, who has modernized Jordan during his 45-year rule, gave women the right to vote and run for parliament in 1974 _ though at the time elections had been suspended since 1967. When balloting resumed in 1989, only 12 women took part. None won.

In 1993, three women ran; Faisal was the sole victor.

This year’s 17 women candidates is a ``very modest number, but if several of those manage to make it to parliament we would have achieved a great plus,″ said chief election spokesman Mazen Armouti.

Faisal inspired at least one of them _ her sister, Leila.

``It is time that the women’s voice is heard,″ Leila Faisal said. She is vying with another woman and five men in an Amman district.

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