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May 16, 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of the enactment of women’s political rights in Kuwait. The amendment of Election Law No. 35/1962 in 2005, which granted women the right to vote and run for office, opened the door for female candidates to participate in parliamentary and local elections for the first time. It was not until 2009 when women managed to make a historic victory in the electoral arena by winning 8 percent of the seats in a highly-contested election. However, women’s presence in parliament continued to plunge as they secured only 6 percent of the seats in December 2012, and female candidates struggled to maintain this slim presence in the legislative arena. The current Kuwaiti Parliament—elected in July 2013—does not have a single female candidate; the sole elected female MP, Safa al-Hashem, 2 resigned in May 2014.
Despite being granted full political rights more than a decade ago, women in the decision-making process have encountered endless challenges, both within and outside the chamber. Prospects for women becoming an integral part of the legislative process are increasingly slim as a result of a myriad of cultural, institutional, and structural barriers. For women to make a real difference in the Kuwaiti electoral arena, far-reaching electoral reforms must be implemented to empower women politically, especially in the more conservative districts in Kuwait (mainly the fourth and fifth districts), in order to counter the dominant tribal culture and control over these areas. Furthermore, the government should take the necessary steps to establish strong political parties in the country instead of the dominant bloc/coalition system, 3 and to ensure that women are adequately represented in these parties by means of quota adoption or by enforcing non-compliance sanctions. Finally, these aforementioned reforms should be supplemented by major transformation on the grassroots level to alter perceptions toward viewing female politicians as competent political leaders and capable decision-makers. Women’s organizations across the country should play a more active role in educating women about their political rights and provide them with adequate resources to compete on equal footage with their male counterparts.
The first part of this report sheds light on the socio-political context and dynamics of power relations in post-independence Kuwait and their respective impact on shaping gender relations in the country. The second part of the analysis focuses on the development of Kuwait’s electoral system and the ways these electoral arrangements have impacted women’s political participation. The third part explicates women’s efforts to gain political rights over the past few decades and highlights the various barriers female politicians have experienced that continue to hinder them from achieving full gender parity in the electoral sphere. The conclusion offers a set of policy implications and recommendations toward promoting women’s presence in the electoral arena in Kuwait.
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