By M. Limam Mohamed Ali*

The XII Legislature of the Saharawi National Council (Saharawi Parliament) recently began following the celebration of the constitutive plenary session. If we take into consideration that we are also on the eve of the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Frente POLISARIO, it seems particularly opportune to take stock of the impact of positive discrimination and the gender quota of the Saharawi electoral system on women's political representation, with the noble purpose of making equality before the law something real and not merely formal.

Therefore, in Saharawi society as in any other, the idea of establishing public policies of what is known as "affirmative action" or "positive discrimination" advanced considerably in the last decades in abid to establish a State policy aimed at women, so that formal equality becomes real equality without further delay and in within a reasonable timeframe.

Before exploring the subject in depth, it may be  useful to place things in context, although this requires a degree of hindsight. As Saharawis, and as the  human beings that we no doubt are, we consider nothing human alien to us and we know it takes all sorts to make a world . We therefore believe that it is fair not only to recognize, but also to be proud that the achievements of this emancipating action were reached in the midst of war of national liberation and the building of a State, something unprecedented in the annals of history for a liberation movement outside of the framework of a productive sphere. Only three decades ago no money was in circulation, however the refugee camps have become the best organized in the world thanks to the careful management  by Saharawi women. The Saharawi management was a source of inspiration for several international refugee organizations. We were and continue to be the cheapest refugees for UNHCR.

 Similarly we should also mention that these camps are among the safest in the world,  they receive the highest numbers of foreign visitors per year,  the possession of weapons there is totally prohibited,   not a single case of sexist violence has been registered, and  there are no prisoners of conscience.


In recent decades, the idea of "positive discrimination" or "affirmative action" has guided social policies aimed at correcting substantial and de facto inequalities suffered by certain traditionally disadvantaged groups, such as women. Its purpose is to guarantee real and effective equality of rights and opportunities for these groups. Positive discrimination is applied in different areas, such as gender equality.

Positive discrimination policies consist of establishing by law some inequalities on a temporary basis by law in order to promote de facto equality. Positive discrimination must be understood as a tool to transform society. The concept has been developed in different regions with a variety legal basis to support its practical development and implementation.

As far as the Frente POLISARIO is concerned, its position on the matter is clear and closely related to the principles on which it was founded on  10th May, 1973. It has always had the firm conviction that the participation of women must be promoted, since their activism constitutes an essential factor for the mobilization in the struggle for the legitimate rights of the Saharawi People. Special importance is attached to the constitution and organization of the different parts of civil society into mass organizations, in which preferential treatment has been given to Saharawi women in order for them to come aware of their rights and duties.

In short, "Let us build a national culture that emanates from the reality of our people and that tends to transform it." This quote from Luali Mustafa Sayed, founder of the Frente POLISARIO, encapsulates all the above and remains valid.


The gender quota is a positive action aimed at achieving gender equality and an equal distribution between women and men with regard to  access to positions of authority.  Women's real participation in political life as well as their empowerment, as well as  their right to develop themselves and to enjoy their own wealth, should be considered as essential factors that contribute to women's ability to play a relevant role in society. This is what moves many decision-makers to actively support women's empowerment and their real participation in society, as they constitute half of it. To fail the women would mean accepting that Saharawi society would function with only half of its productive force, ignoring the other half; hence the importance of the conclusions of some reports and studies carried out by the United Nations Development Plan (UNDP), which provide important indicators on human development and demonstrate in a reliable way the progress of societies in several different areas such as political, economic, social or cultural.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that thanks to the gender quota the current leadership of the Frente POLISARIO has six women, one of whom holds this position for the first time. The Saharawi Government has three ministries headed by women: Interior, Social Affairs and Promotion of Women, and Cooperation, and three of the five refugee camps are run by female governors.

Following the amendment to the Saharawi electoral law carried out with the aim of ensuring greater empowerment of women, the electoral system for the election of the Saharawi National Council (CNS), which is made up of 53 deputies, includes a compulsory gender quota. The wilayas (provinces), with the largest number of dairas (municipalities) such as Smara and Dakhla, have 7 seats each. The amendment to the electoral law requires that 4 out of the 7 seats be occupied by women. In the wilayas of Auserd and Laayoune, which have 6 seats each, 3 of those must be held by women. In the wilaya of Bojador, which has 4 seats, 2 of them must be for women. And as far as the wilaya of Martyr El Hafed (Rabuni) is concerned, there must be 1 female representative.


Saharawi society is tolerant but also women-friendly, and they are held in high regard. The Saharawi woman is the only woman in the Arab-Muslim world who is not stigmatized for divorcing. Divorce is not an obstacle to remarriage, and a mother does not lose the custody of her children following divorce. A woman can drive her own vehicle provided that she has a driving license and she doesn’t need a close family member by her side when travelling. There have been cases where women have married people of another faith and, despite holding relevant positions in the SADR and the Frente POLISARIO,  have not been stigmatized for it. There is no gender pay gap. There has not been a single case in which a Saharawi man has resigned his position because his immediate superior was a woman.

We consider the emancipation of Saharawi women as the best guarantee of their active participation in political life and their empowerment, so paving the way for them to exercise their right to personal development, all key factors enabling women to play an essential role in their society. The statistics speak for themselves.

This being said, were one to chose to ignore or undervalue these improvements, with the argument that they are insignificant compared to the achievements of hegemonic or white feminism, which by the way would be a questionable assertion, the specific targeting together with  the development and rapid evolution of the role of women in Saharawi society should be emphasized. All this has been confirmed by Western female scholars, activists and feminists from an interdisciplinary perspective in the conclusions of their research work.


A National Commission in Charge of the Electoral Process for this XII Legislature was established by virtue of a Presidential Decree made public on March 12, 2023. The Committee consisted of 129 members.

No. 95 of the Saharawi Official Journal (BOE) contains all the legal provisions that regulate the elections to the Saharawi National Council (Parliament), and the internal regulations of the National Commission in Charge of the Electoral Process for this legislature.

On April 8,2023, in all wilayas (provinces) and national institutions, political conferences for the election of the members of the Saharawi National Council began. In the aforementioned conferences, which took place over two days, the legal provisions governing the electoral process were discussed, as well as a document on the trajectory, importance and experience of the CNS as a Legislative Power, as well as an assessment of the role of the Saharawi National Council during the previous legislature and the appointment of the committee that supervises the electoral process of the members of the CNS for each electoral district.

The 53 seats in the SNC are distributed among constituencies, but the gender quota must also be met. The Electoral Law has allocated 7 seats to the wilaya of Smara and  the  wilaya of Dakhla (each having 7 dairas), and they must include at least four women, while at least 3 of the  6 seats allocated to each of the wilayas of Laayoune and Auserd  must be occupied by women; the wilaya of Bojador has 3 seats and must include at least two women; and 4 seats were allocated to the administrative and political unit of  the Mártir El  Hafed (Rabuni), which had to include at least one woman. Mass organisations (women, students, youth and workers) were allocated one seat each, while 3 seats were allocated to the Consultative Council and 10 representatives in the Saharawi National Council to the  Sahrawi People's Liberation Army.

The persons in charge of the political conferences presented a series of guidelines to ensure the transparency and credibility of the electoral process, assessing the work of the commissions charged with supervising the process of submitting the files of the male and female candidates,  with scrutinizing them, as well as examining appeals lodged against the refusal to admit files submitted by certain candidates. They also emphasized the need to facilitate the work of those observers able to attend the electoral process and to create all the necessary conditions for them to fulfil their mission.

The political conferences examined the current state of the national cause, the challenges it faces and the most important achievements at both internal and external levels.

These free and fair electins involved more than casting a vote, and have generated a dynamic that favours the candidacy of women. At the final count, women obtained almost 42% of the votes casted (21 deputies out of 53). But the most remarkable fact is that, in some constituencies, there was no need to make use of the gender quota.

In line with the above and to highlight these percentages, it should be remembered that, in 2020, women represented 24.9% of all parliamentarians in Sub-Saharan Africa (an increase of 0.5 points since 2019).

In summary, this number of female Saharawi deputies is a revealing fact which demonstrates the clear impact that positive discrimination policies and gender quotas are having on the empowerment of Saharawi women, since it indicates that there is a social demand to achieve parity as soon as possible. Therefore, the Saharawi Legislative Power, which is where popular sovereignty lies, is called upon to adopt tangible measures to that effect. It seems that the gender quota, which is a positive action aimed at achieving gender equality and equal distribution between women and men in access to positions, is falling short. In other words, the principle of parity must be fully respected by introducing a series of corrective measures aimed at creating a fairer society. To that aim, without losing sight of the fact that we are living in a situation of war and that fortunately we have very well-trained female colleagues to whom any task could be entrusted, we must see to it that Saharawi men respectfully step back in order to make parity a tangible fact, instead of competing with their female peers during a time of war. Saharawi men are called upon to encourage women to have greater participation in political life, and to generate increased synergy and complementarity between them. The number of women in freely appointed positions must be increased.  For their part Saharawi women are called upon to vote more for their colleagues and to raise awareness of the obstacles posed by self-exclusion.

We shall not tire of repeating that without women it would have been impossible for us to have come this far.

M. Limam Mohamed Ali

Militant of the Frente POLISARIO

and citizen of the SADR