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"We are at the dawn of the African Women's Decade ... We need to empower African women who produce food, raise children and drive the economy here. When those women take their rightful place at the negotiating table, in the parliament and in leadership positions across society, we can unleash Africa's enormous potential"

Ban Ki-moon , UN Secretary-General

Mauritania headed to the polls on June 21st to elect a new President for a five-year term. Lalla Mariem Mint Moulaye Idriss was the only woman candidate in these presidential elections.

 

These elections were aimed at transitioning from military rule to democratic rule and the Mauritanian Forum for the Preservation of Democratic Process (MFPDP) was established to aid in this transition. [1] However, there was significant tension during the elections with  most of the political opposition choosing  to boycott them. Cheikh Sidi Ahmed Ould Babmine, head of the National Forum for Democracy and Unity (FNDU) and one of the presidential candidates referred to the election as a “masquerade”[2] Thousands of Mauritanians protested on June 4th in the capital against the elections, with the conclusion that the results were already pre-determined.

The Mauritanian government is composed of the Chief of State (the President), the Head of Government (the Prime Minister) and a bicameral parliament made up of the Senate (56 seats) and the National Assembly (146 seats).

The president is elected for a 5-years term. He must be elected with absolute majority in the first round. Otherwise, the two candidates who obtain the highest number of votes in the first round run for a second round.

 

Women Political Participation

Lalla Mariem Mint Moulaye Idriss was the only female presidential candidate in these elections. Prior to this, she was Head of the administration for the Mauritanian Information Agency (AMI). She is also the second female candidate to run for presidency in Mauritania. Prior to her, Aicha Mint Jedeine had run for the presidential elections in 2003 but had obtained a low score.

Although Lalla Mariem Mint Moulaye Idriss ran for the presidency, it is still difficult for women to be represented in Mauritania. Mrs Mint Moulaye Idriss deplores the lack of women in key positions, stating that "there are not enough women in Mauritanian politics, they are absent” from political and economic spheres.  According to her, it has “always been the women who led men’s political campaigns”[3] 

Women fought in the previous years to acquire political positions. A Quota law was passed in 2006 to ensure that women could hold 20% of parliamentary seats. Despite this law, women representation still fell short in the 2006 parliamentary elections, obtaining only 16% of Senate seats and 19% of National Assembly seats. [4]

However, during the November 2013 parliamentary elections, the quota mark was achieved, given that 37 women won lower house seats. [5]

It must be underlined that Mauritanian women are determined to gain more political representation. The Group of Advocacy Initiatives for Women's Political Participation (GI3PF), a nonpartisan organisation, is advocating for political equality by encouraging women’s participation in Mauritanian politics. “We want women to find their place within political life and elections,” [6]said Lalla Aicha Sy, coordinator of GI3PF.

GI3PF educates citizens about why women’s representation is important. Giving women a voice will lead to policies that better reflect women’s needs and priorities. “The responsible woman is she who makes her voice heard”[7]. GI3PF gathered support for a petition calling for the inclusion of more women in Parliament. Ultimately, the group aims at gathering support to lift the quota of women to one-third in both houses of the Parliament.

 

During the past years, a few male politicians have tried to make it difficult for women. In 2012, Aslamo Ould Sidi al-Mustafa issued a fatwa banning women from running for presidential elections.  According to this presidential advisor, women could enter the race, but this would be “just for fun”[8] This statement reflects the obstacles women in Mauritania still face with regards to political participation and how much work still needs to be done.

 

Conclusion

Although the results of the elections have been contested by the opposition, the incumbent president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, won the presidential elections by 81,89% of the votes. [9] He first came to power through a military coup in 2008 and won the presidential elections in 2009. He is often described as a “Western ally” against Al Qaeda in the West African region.[10]

Lalla Mariem Mint Moulaye Idriss received 0.48% of the votes, which put her in last position among the five candidates. [11]

Mint Moulaye Idriss’ candidacy reflects a turning point: gender quotas play a key role in enhancing women’s political participation in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. For the past few years, calls for equality in politics have arisen from various parts of society.

 

Even though progress has been made in women’s participation in political life especially with quota seats in Parliament - Mauritania still has a long way to go before the country can achieve equality with regards to women in politics.

 

Women Representation Statistics

 

Women political representation

As of 2013

As of 2014

Female presidential candidates

n/a

1

Female members of parliament

37 (25.17%)[12]

 

 

 

 



[1] UN Africa, Africa Renewal (2014) « Slow but steady walk to democracy », p.8 http://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/april-2014/slow-steady-walk-democracy#sthash.4fYz1aur.dpuf

3 Liberation, « Lalla Mariem MintMoulaye Idriss, seule femme candidate aux élections présidentielles », 2014 http://www.liberation.fr/monde/2014/06/21/mauritanie-lalla-mariem-mint-moulaye-idriss-seule-femme-candidate-aux-presidentielles_1046934

[4] Jeune Afrique, “Mauritanie: les femmes se mobilisent pour plus de représentativité”, August 2012, http://www.jeuneafrique.com/Article/JA2689p054-055-bis.xml0/

[6] The National Democratic Institute, « Mauritanian Women Advocate for rights with public pétition », 2013 https://www.ndi.org/mauritania-women-advocate

[7] The National Democratic Institute, « Mauritanian Women Advocate for rights with public petition », 2013 https://www.ndi.org/mauritania-women-advocate

[8] UN Africa, Africa Renewal, 2014 « Slow but steady walk to democracy », p.8 http://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/april-2014/slow-steady-walk-democracy#sthash.4fYz1aur.dpuf

[9] Commission Electorale Indépendante, 2014, « Communiqué portant proclamation des résultats des élections présidentielles du 21 juin 2014 » http://www.ceni.mr/IMG/pdf/declaration_provisoire_des_resultats_fr.pdf

[10] Reuters, « Mauritania sets June 21 date for presidential election », 21th April 2014 http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/21/us-mauritania-election-idUSBREA3K0X120140421

[11] Commission Electorale Indépendante, 2014, « Communiqué portant proclamation des résultats des élections présidentielles du 21 juin 2014 » http://www.ceni.mr/IMG/pdf/declaration_provisoire_des_resultats_fr.pdf

[12]  IPU PARLINE database ; Mauritania, National Assembly, http://www.ipu.org/parline-e/reports/2207_A.htm

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