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Maysoon Hamarsheh, in the Jordan Paralympic Committee

Changing the political landscape

Published 18 April 2018

It was a bright hot Tuesday in August 2017, with colourful Jordanian flags flapping, posters dangling off traffic lights, and the commotion of vehicles and buzzing movement of determined people.  Yet, the distinct spark of anticipation and suspense that hung in the air gave it memorability.  Maysoon and Asia, paying no heed to their physical disabilities, have one simple goal in mind; changing the political landscape in Jordan on this election day.

“I have always been a member of ‘I am Human Society for Rights of People with Disabilities’ ever since it was established in 2008”, says Maysoon; a fifty-year-old woman who recently ran for Decentralization elections in Jordan.  “After my retirement in 2017 as a Director of Accessibility Unit in the Higher Council of Affairs of Persons with Disabilities I took it upon myself to raise the voice of people with disabilities, claiming our rights, through utilizing governmental platforms.”

In 2015, Jordan passed two bills; the Decentralization Law, which governs the election and the powers of newly created provincial governments, and the Municipalities Law, which governs both the capital and regular municipalities. The recently passed decentralization plan in Jordan is an important component to democratization, as it aims to increase the participation of the Jordanian people in the decision-making process, encourage economic development, and enhance the authority and jurisdiction of municipalities.
Asia Yaghi; head of ‘I am Human Society for Rights of People with Disabilities’, one of IM Swedish Development Partners since 2015 explains: “Article 6 on Municipalities Law 2015 states that women shall constitute 15% of the total elected and appointed council members, but unfortunately, there is no legislation assuring representation of people with disabilities in these councils.”

“It is through my active participation in several political empowerment workshops, supported by IM Swedish Development Partner and in cooperation with I am Human Society and Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs that I felt knowledgeable and capable enough to practice my right for candidate eligibility,” continues Maysoon.  “I felt that I had a responsibility towards people with disabilities, a responsibility that had to be taken seriously.”

In the elections, Maysoon received 670 votes, out of the 1000 required to win a seat on the council, with an average voter turnout of 31 to 32% across the Kingdom.  “It was not a decision based on sympathy nor a disability,” asserts Ms. Suha Qawasmi when asked about why she voted for Maysoon.  “I believed in her.  In her beliefs and values.  In her ability to bring about positive change, not just to people with disabilities, but to the community in a whole.”

In Jordan, the Higher Council of Affairs of Persons with Disabilities’ estimates the number of persons with disabilities for 2016 at 13% (not including refugees), and similarly, the World Health Organization (WHO) puts the average worldwide prevalence of disabilities at 15%  .  Although the Jordanian bill for Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2017, Article 4 calls for inclusion of people with disabilities into all areas of life, but it does not specify a minimum representation percentage in the House of Parliament.

“We strive through our partnership with IM Swedish Development Partner to set a quota for political representation for persons with disabilities and amplifying the voices of rights holders and address stereotypes, change attitudes towards persons with disabilities and lay the foundation for equality and non-discrimination,” notes Asia. “We work on training and rehabilitation, advocacy, promoting integration and capacity building for people with disabilities.  Our main focus is women with disabilities, particularly with regard to their protection from discrimination, violence and abuse, and access to education and healthcare.”

These councils are entrusted with developmental, not political tasks, but the members’ participation could pave their way for political representation in the House of Parliament.

“In my professional experience, I incorporated accessibility facilities in all projects, such as pavements, roads, ramps, sanitary units, elevators, door knobs and much more,” elaborates Maysoon.  “It is imperative that we provide an obstacle-free world, not just for persons with disabilities, but for seniors as well so they can lead an independent, dignified life.”

“Winning the decentralization elections was not the ultimate goal for me,” Maysoon concludes.  “Being one out of the first and only three people with disabilities running for this election is a national distinguished precedent that I am proud to have contributed to.”