( AP ) - A quarter of the candidates in next week's Jordanian elections are women, but they face an uphill battle.
Only six women are now in parliament, and the handful that served, such as liberal lawmaker Toujan Faisal, say they face intimidation and lack of respect in conservative, tribal-dominated Jordan.
Faisal, Jordan's first female lawmaker, accuses her government opponents of shutting off highway lighting as she drove in total darkness one rainy night back home from the country's north. She says they also sent strangers for a pre-dawn house break-in, and once even had an armed man lurking around her apartment's balcony.
Now, the government critic has been disqualified from contesting next week's parliamentary elections because of slander charges for having accused a former prime minister of corruption five years ago.
"They try to intimidate and discredit me because I dare to speak out," said the striking blonde, an ardent champion of liberal views in Jordan, where parliament is nearly an all-male affair.
In all, 203 women and 750 men will compete for positions in the Nov. 20 poll, which the government billed as a march toward democracy in this pro-U.S. kingdom. But government critics accuse it of clamping down on Islamists and liberals alike.
Although women make up about half of Jordan's population, they are underrepresented in government. No female candidate won outright in the previous legislative elections in 2003, except through a quota system offered by the government to ensure at least six women sit in the 110-seat legislature.
Still, women in Jordan enjoy relative freedoms, compared with their peers in Saudi Arabia, where they are banned from driving, voting or running in municipal elections. In Jordan, there are female judges, police, air force pilots and business executives.
But restrictions remain. They are prevented from passing on their nationalities to their children or foreign husbands, and cannot travel abroad without their husband's consent.
An average of 20 women are killed yearly in Jordan in what is known as honor crimes - a phenomenon where a woman is punished by male relatives on suspicions of having sex outside marriage, or simply dating.
Judges often commute sentences in honor killing cases, especially if family members drop the charges.
Jordan's reformist monarch, King Abdullah II, has tried to push for harsher penalties for those crimes but faces resistance from traditionalists who argue this would promote vice.
In the coming vote, traditionally pro-monarch Bedouin tribesmen are expected to win the greatest number of seats in the powerful Chamber of Deputies. But Abdullah, who is an absolute monarch, can dismiss parliament and rule by decree.
Faisal, the liberal lawmaker, was locked in a legal battle with authorities who claimed she only served part of her 2002 conviction on slander charges. The king pardoned her after she spent 100 days of an 18-month term in prison.
When she was first elected in 1993, Faisal said she was viewed by male deputies "like an ornament in the house" with "everyone sitting by my side" just to get photographed.
They soon realized she was not just a "pretty face in parliament, but a real politician," she said.
Another former lawmaker, Wijdan Talhouni Saket, said the problem of proportional balloting was keeping her from running this time.
"It's not if you bring the most votes that you'll get a seat," she said. Saket only got a seat after the king intervened, appointing her to the Upper House, or Senate.
One former lawmaker who is undeterred from pursuing another election bid is Hayet al-Musaymeh of the Islamic Action Front, Jordan's largest opposition group with 17 seats in the previous legislature.
"I represent all the women who will vote for our program," said the pharmacist, the only female candidate running under a party banner, rather than as an independent.
But in Jordan's traditional society, many female votes are likely to go to male relatives because of family pressures.
Impoverished voters are also regularly paid to vote for wealthy candidates, Saket and other critics say.
Because of this, Saket says she won't seek a second term. Her advice to other women candidates of her modern trend: "Focus on the young generation, and use Facebook and the Internet."