History was made in the Arab world when four women emerged as winners in the Gulf State’s general parliamentary elections held Saturday, May 16th, 2009.
For the last fifty years, Kuwait’s parliament has been completely controlled by men. The victory of al-Awadhi, Rola Dashti, Salwa al-Jassar and former Health Minister Massouma al-Mubarak, the first Kuwaiti woman to be appointed to a ministerial post, marked the first time women have won seats in parliament since granted the right to vote and run for office in 2005.
The election, which was the second of the year, was called following the decision of Kuwait’s ruler, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, to dissolve parliament. Many of the previous parliament cabinets have accused the government, which is heavily influenced by the ruling family, of alleged corruption, abuse of power, and disagreed over economic reform. These issues have resulted in a constant feud that partially inspired the dissolving of this particular parliament.
In the race for 50 seats, two hundred and ten candidates ran, of which, only sixteen were women. In Kuwait, there are no officially recognized political parties, instead, candidates belong to political groups, run independently or represent their tribes. This results in the ability of lawmakers to shift alliances easily, which makes it difficult to foresee how the new assembly will work with the cabinet. Over the years, the parliament in Kuwait has been dominated by tribesmen and Islamists, all of which have been men.
The recent election has allowed the government and ruler to pass an economic rescue package of U.S. $5 billion to lessen the effect of the global financial crisis, which had faced opposition under the previous parliament.
Breaking through the ‘glass ceiling’
During the election campaign, the Salafist Movement, a Sunni Islamist bloc, had urged voters to boycott female candidates. However, the four successful females were voted in despite the efforts against them.
“The election on Saturday is a watershed event, these four women were elected without the support of a political party and without any quota requiring that women be elected,” U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton announced Tuesday, May 19th, 2009 at a press briefing at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, DC. Recognizing that the victory of these four Kuwaiti women represents more than the success of individuals, Clinton continued, “No country will be successful if half the population are denied their basic right to participate and to lent their talent, energy and intelligence to the development of their countries.”
Although there is still a ways to go in regards to the political and social rights of women this election represents a big step towards a brighter future in Kuwait and the surrounding region.