Kuwait Elects Country’s First Women Lawmakers

Digital Journal, May 17, 2009.

In a stinging blow to Islamic fundamentalists—who’ve been opposed to extending political rights to women—voters in Kuwait have elected female parliamentarians for the first time in the country’s history.

The development, a milestone in the socially and politically conservative societies of the Gulf, is being hailed as a triumph for democracy in general, and women’s liberation, in particular.

Of the 16 women in the electoral fray, four won seats to the 50-member Kuwaiti legislature. Among the winners are the country’s first cabinet minister, a prominent social activist, and two academics.

Rola Dashti is an economist and a former consultant to the World Bank, who’d spearheaded the women’s suffrage movement in the kingdom. She’d run on two previous occasions, in 2006 and 2008, but failed to secure victory in those electoral bids.

Massouma al-Mubarak, although a first-time lawmaker, is not a newcomer to the public arena. She’d served as a planning minister in 2005 and later, at the ministries of transport and health.

The two others are education professor Salwa al-Jassar and philosophy professor Aseel al-Awadhi, both of whom teach at Kuwait University.

All four women hold Ph.D.s from U.S. universities. Awadhi, 40, holds a doctoral degree from the University of Texas at Austin and Dashti has a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins in Maryland.

Reacting to the historic election, Sharmila Mukherjee, professor at New York University said that the presence of U.S.-educated women in the Kuwaiti parliament, will hopefully, result in policies that are pro-women, liberal, and progressive.

Voters hope that the new legislative makeup will inject political stability in the nation’s currently shaky political landscape.

Years-long wrangling between legislators and cabinet ministers—often leading to impeachment procedures—have stalled the business of governance, thus, hampering the oil-rich kingdom’s overall progress.

Retired civil servant Ebrahim Al Attar, believes that women parliamentarians will make a positive difference. He told Gulf News that “Men don’t have credibility anymore. We’re fed up with crises.”

Kuwait has had an elected parliament since 1963—the oldest in the region—shortly after it won independence from Britain.

But it’s never had a female legislator—until now. Women were allowed to vote and run for public office four years ago, in 2005.

The present election was precipitated by a dust-up in March, this year, when lawmakers accused the prime minister, the emir’s nephew, of corruption and inability to govern.

As a strategy to solve the impasse, he dissolved the legislature and announced a fresh election, the second time in one year.

Kuwait has no official political parties. Cabinet members are unelected officials, cherry-picked by the head of the state and are members of the ruling Al-Sabah family.

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