Who benefits from the women’s vote in the Kuwaiti elections?
Kuwaiti women play a decisive role in the National Assembly (Parliament) elections that will be held next Tuesday, June 6, as women represent about 52 percent of the number of voters in Kuwait.
However, it is not certain that the female vote will be in favor of supporting women candidates exclusively, as this voice is dispersed among the candidates, amid frantic attraction processes for male and female candidates to take advantage of the female vote.
Many women are usually influenced by men in voting processes. In a country dominated by tribal customs, the religious aspect also affects.
Almost 17 years after women ran for parliamentary elections for the first time after the approval of political rights, women’s political journey is still fraught with dangers.
According to the Central Administration of Statistics in Kuwait, the country’s population at the beginning of 2020 amounted to about 4.46 million people, with women representing about 51 percent of the 1.365 million Kuwaiti citizens.
The number of those eligible to vote in the upcoming elections is 793,646 male and female voters, of whom the number of men is 386,751, while the number of women is 406,895, which shows the increasing growth of the female vote in Kuwait.
Despite the great electoral power that women represent in Kuwait, women’s participation in political work has remained faltering, and currently 15 out of 207 candidates are running in the 2023 parliamentary elections, and the number of women candidates in the previous elections in 2022 was 27 out of 376. candidate.
The weak participation is not limited to female candidates, as the votes of women voters usually go in favor of male candidates, in a country dominated by tribal and religious customs.
And after women participated heavily in the previous elections (Council 2022) supported by laws that limit the influence of the dominant tribal forces, prevent the influence of political money, and adopt voter registration based on the civil card, which actually prevents the purchase and transfer of votes; The results were below expectations.
Where only two women achieved the required success to reach the parliamentary dome: Alia Al-Khaled (second constituency) and former minister Janan Bushehri (third constituency), out of 27 candidates.
For 17 years, women were unable to establish their presence in parliamentary life, as Kuwaiti women participated for the first time in the National Assembly elections that were held on June 30, 2006. In 2009, the elections resulted in the victory of 4 female candidates in the National Assembly elections, but women’s chances It declined after that. In the 2013 elections, no woman was elected to parliament, and the last elected woman resigned in May 2014. In the 2016 parliament, only one woman, Safaa Al-Hashem, won a seat in Parliament. However, women suffered a new loss in the 2020 National Assembly elections, which witnessed a high turnout in women’s participation in terms of the number of female candidates and voters.
Kuwaiti academic Dr. Abdullah Sahar, professor of international relations at Kuwait University, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Kuwaiti women have taken away their political rights for a long time, but unfortunately they have not achieved a worthy access to their position in the National Assembly due to many considerations.”
The Kuwaiti academic enumerates these reasons, mentioning among them: “Men excel in the process of social communication, and the traditional aspects that relate to society cannot be neglected, except that women reached in one of the councils until they occupied four seats in the National Assembly, after that the National Assembly was vacant of representatives females.”
Dr. Abdullah Sahar talks about the performance of women in the parliamentary councils in which she participated, and he tells Asharq Al-Awsat: “There was a setback in expectations regarding the role that women can play in the National Assembly, and perhaps there is a traditional aspect, and a religious aspect raised by some ( who has some conservative ideas), which are ideas that are inconsistent with the Kuwaiti constitution, which equals women and men in political rights.
In Dr. Sahar’s opinion, “In the general evaluation, the experience of women is a good experience. We mention among the successful examples the experience of Dr. Masouma Al-Mubarak, which is a pioneering experience, especially when she was the first female minister in the Kuwaiti government, as well as an active member of the National Assembly. When she was a minister, she was able to be at the level of political responsibility, as was the case when she was a member of Parliament; It was a very elegant proposal.”
Women’s issues: positions
Less than a week before the election day, the candidate of the third constituency, the former minister and deputy, Janan Bushehri, said that the Kuwaiti constitution triumphed for women’s rights, and that she is an essential and active partner at the level of the state and society.
During a symposium for the development of political culture, in which Bushehri participated, along with 8 female candidates for the National Assembly elections, the former deputy emphasized “reconsidering the electoral system and approving the High Electoral Commission law,” and pledged that this issue would be “one of the priorities of political reform in the next stage.”
Bushehri also stressed the importance of political stability to achieve reform. She said, “Without political stability, we will not be able to move to deal with any file.”
She added, “This requires political reforms, foremost of which is the election law, which strengthened individual action within the National Assembly, and is one of the reasons for the deterioration of political action.”
The file of women’s issue in Kuwait was not absent. Bushehri said during the symposium that “the file of women’s issues is one of the important files, and its first steps began in the annulled council with the participation of the stakeholders, who are the children of Kuwaiti women, as I submitted the civil rights law for the children of Kuwaiti women.”
Former MP and candidate for the second constituency, Alia Al-Khaled, said in a joint symposium that “Kuwaiti women are an essential element in the equations of development, construction, and society’s prosperity. Kuwait was built by men and women alongside them.”
Al-Khaled also focused in her electoral statements on supporting the economic sector, especially small and medium enterprises, as the main engine of the economy and the most important mechanism for supporting production.
Among the female candidates is Nour Al-Mutairi (the fourth constituency), who confirmed the adoption of the file “Women’s Empowerment, Leadership and Development,” stressing that the main motive for her participation is her belief in the role of women and the importance of their presence in Parliament.
Likewise, candidate Anoud Al-Enezi (first constituency), who stressed the need to achieve “political stability as a pillar of development” and pay attention to social development and education.
Candidate Fahima Al-Rashidi (Fourth District), stressed “the importance of supporting women’s legal and constitutional rights.”
Candidate Wadad Habib (second constituency) called for several issues, “most notably national identity and women’s issues, such as housing, livelihood, and the right to own property.”
In her participation in the symposium on “Women’s Role in Changing the Political Scene,” candidate Salwa Al-Saeed (3rd constituency) called for “combating the political exploitation of women,” and warned that “women should be a tool used by politicians to achieve their goals far from women’s and people’s issues.”
As for candidate Aziza Al-Bannai (first constituency), she said in the same symposium, “Women are fighting for candidacy for reasons that are not clear or vague. If they are half of society, then their rights are almost lost in housing, education… and others.”
The candidate for the third constituency, Ghada Al-Otaibi, called for attention to women’s issues, and emphasized in media statements the protection of women from domestic violence, and resolving issues related to employment rights and equal salary… and others.