KUWAIT CITY (AFP) – Women in the conservative Gulf state of Kuwait aim to make it third time lucky as they contest seats in parliament after two failed attempts in legislative elections.
US-educated candidate Maasuma al-Mubarak already made history by becoming the first female minister in Kuwait in 2005, right after women were granted full political rights following a 40-year struggle.
“I am very optimistic that a Kuwaiti woman will reach parliament this time. I was the first female minister and I am looking to become the first female member of parliament,” she said after registering her candidacy.
Early polls have been called for May 16, after parliament was dissolved for the third time in as many years.
“This time we are contesting for a third time more determined, more optimistic and more aware … I believe the path is ready,” for women to enter parliament, Mubarak added.
“Third time lucky,” the US-educated candidate told AFP.
Women voters make up 54 percent of the 385,000 eligible voters in Kuwait, but they overwhelmingly voted for male candidates in the previous elections since 2005.
Activist Badriya al-Awadhi found in a study published this week that only three percent of women voters cast their votes for women candidates in the 2008 polls.
In the 2006 and 2008 elections, a total of 54 women candidates stood in the polls but without success although a number of them made a strong showing.
A liberal candidate, Aseel al-Awadhi, who is running again in this month’s election, came in 11th place last year, just behind the first 10 in her constituency who won seats.
Nineteen women are standing in this year’s election, of whom all but two have contested previous elections.
Analysts attribute women’s failure in the previous two elections to several reasons, such as the conservative nature of Kuwait society, absence of support from political groups, and lack of experience.
The head of the Women’s Development Institute, Kawthar al-Juaan, believes the chances of women on May 16 have improved after they gained experience in the previous two polls.
“I believe the chances of Kuwaiti women candidates this time are very strong … Kuwaiti voters are more favourable to women than before,” Juaan told AFP.
She said the constant political crises in the oil-rich emirate and infighting within men-controlled political groups would make it easier for women to win seats.
The date of the elections falls on the fourth anniversary of a parliamentary vote on May 16, 2005 that gave women full political rights.
Candidate Thekra al-Rasheedi, who last year surprisingly secured 2,200 votes in a tribal constituency where voters do not favour women, said this year the outlook is much better.
“Last year, I struggled to visit diwaniyas (traditionally all-male gathering places) simply because I am a woman. This year, I have been invited by so many diwaniyas that I don’t have the time to visit them all,” lawyer Rasheedi said.
A local hardline Islamic group, however, has issued a fatwa, or a religious edict, saying that voting for women candidates was prohibited under Islam.
The Salafi Movement argued that by becoming members of parliament, women would occupy a public office, something “which, under Islamic rules, is prohibited for women.”
Several female candidates, many of whom are highly educated and work in top professions, slammed the fatwa as “politically-motivated.”
Kuwaiti women account for 44.5 percent of the national workforce of about 336,000 — the highest proportion in any Arab state in the Gulf region — but only a few hold top posts in government.
The 16-member cabinet has two women ministers.