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Third time lucky?
Women in Kuwait remain hopeful about female candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections after three failed attempts.
May 14, 2009 3:13 by Parinaaz Navdar
Women in Kuwait aim to make it third time lucky as they compete for seats in parliament after failed attempts in previous legislative elections. In May 2005, after six years of debate, women were given the vote and they hoped that they would also get the chance to shape legislation. But in elections the following years, female candidates couldn’t shatter the glass ceiling.
Kuwaiti women are well represented in medicine, education, the civil service and business; but politics still remains an all-male preserve. In the 2006 and 2008 elections, a total of 54 female candidates campaigned unsuccessfully, although a number of them made a strong showing. Nineteen women are standing in this year’s election, of whom all but two have contested in previous elections.
Recently, local conservative Islamic group issued a fatwa saying that voting for women was forbidden, because if women become members of parliament, they would occupy public office; something which is apparently prohibited for women according to Islamic law. Female candidates running for election have slammed the fatwa, calling it politically motivated.
Analysts have attributed women’s failure in previous elections to several reasons including, the conservative nature of Kuwaiti society; absence of support from political groups; and lack of experience.
Maasuma al-Mubarak made history when she became the first female minister in 2005, soon after women were granted full political rights. “This time we are contesting for a third time more determined, more optimistic and more aware. I believe the path is ready,” said Mubarak. “I was the first female minister and I am looking to become the first female member of parliament,” she said after registering her candidacy.
Women are confident that the constant political crises in the oil-rich emirate and infighting within male political groups would make it easier for women to win seats.
A parliamentary seats’ quota system currently exists to boost women’s political participation in Kuwait by giving them the right to a share of seats on a sustainable basis. More than 100 countries in the world use this system in their parliament.
However, according to Kuwait Times, some critics say that women should earn the seats instead of occupying them without effort. They also claim that men and women are equal under the Kuwaiti constitution.
About 384,000 people are entitled to vote this week in Kuwait, a country with a population of 3.4 million. Unlike other parliaments and legislative bodies in the Middle East, Kuwait’s can influence the country’s policies and is generally independent of the emir, who holds executive powers.