Snímek obrazovky 2020-11-25 v 15.53.31.p

Record Number of Women Brace for Tough Fight in Kuwaiti Elections

by Romy Haber

With elections in Kuwait less than two weeks away, candidates’ campaigns are in full swing. 395 candidates are competing for 50 seats in Kuwait’s National Assembly. This year sees a record number of women — 33 — running in the election, which is more than the number of women candidates in the 2013 and 2016 elections combined. This would not have been possible without the long struggle and fight for women’s political rights that started decades prior to the momentous 2005 decree that allowed women to vote and run for office.

Over the past few years, Kuwait has witnessed multiple legislative reforms in favour of women’s rights. For example, the domestic worker’s law of June 2015 helped regulate labour rights of the domestic workers in the country, the overwhelming majority of whom are migrant women. In  2013 Kuwaiti women could, for the first time, apply to become prosecutors, and five years later women were allowed to become judges, with the first 8 female judges taking office in September 2020. This year Kuwait also passed its first law designed to tackle domestic violence. And the list of achievements goes on.

 

After years of activism, women in Kuwait have come a long way. However, since 2005, only seven women have made it to the parliament: Aseel Al Awadhi, Masooma Al Mubarak, Salwa Al Jassar, Rola Dashti, Thekra Al Rashidi, and Safaa Al Hashem. In the 2016 elections, only one woman was elected, despite the fact that women represent almost 40% of the country’s population.

 

Reem Abdallah Aleidan, a candidate in the third district, highlighted the challenges female candidates face in Kuwait: ‘Our biggest obstacles for us female candidates are political blocs that do not want to cooperate with us and even put us down for the mistakes of previous candidates… However, we are determined to restore the confidence between electorates and women in parliament.[1]

 

Women candidates are constantly confronted with the prevailing negative assumptions of women’s ability to perform as political leaders: ‘There is a small group that rejects the political existence of women, either because of negative customs and traditions or because of Islamic movements that are unconscious and devoted to marginalizing women,’ explained Aleidan.

 

Additionally, there have been also frequent social media attacks against female candidates through WhatsApp and Twitter. In an article, for the Kuwaiti daily newspaper, Al Qabas, Dr Balkees Al Najjar wrote: ‘It seems like budgets have been allocated to discredit some female candidates and to question their principles and attitudes, to weaken their chances of winning…’

 

Amid these challenges, a new online platform, Mudhawi’s List, was created to support women running for elected office position. Through this platform, female candidates can connect with volunteers and donors that would help them in their campaign, facilitating them access to skill development and the latest technologies. It also seeks to raise awareness about the importance of women in leadership positions, who are more actively involved and advocate more in gender-salient issues.

 

Aleidan, for example, said she was determined to achieve justice in women’s issues, including gender-based violence, girls’ right to education and the government’s policy of “social and cultural development,” among others. But most importantly, she wants to focus on the Kuwaiti nationality law that discriminates against women, preventing them from passing on their nationality to their children and spouses on an equal basis with men.[2]

 

Only by having more women in power can gender equality be achieved. However, it is yet to be seen how much gender parity this election will bring.

Leanah Al Awadhi, founding member and project manager of Mudhawi’s List, expressed hope for the upcoming parliamentary elections: ‘At Mudhawi’s List, we are hopeful to see change within the new upcoming parliament, and we are hopeful to see at least more than one woman in office within this new parliament. However, we hope that this is only the beginning and it would be fair to say that this generation of youth and all upcoming generations are starting to take a shift from traditional voting behavior that is heavily backed by tribal and cultural ideologies to rational voting behavior that will hopefully have a positive impact on the upcoming parliaments and their members.[3]

Kuwait is wasting a precious resource in the dramatic underrepresentation of women in leadership positions. The talents and skills of Kuwaiti women can have an undeniable positive impact on the public sphere. Empowering these women to run for public office is needed to ensure that governments reflect the diversity of the societies they represent and to ensure that gender considerations are more systematically embedded in all policies.

Notes

[1] Author’s interview with Reem Abdallah Aleidan, 18 November 2020.

[2] Author’s interview with Reem Abdallah Aleidan, 18 November 2020.

[3] Author’s interview with Leanah Al Awadhi, 18 November 2020