KUWAIT CITY (AFP) – Kuwaiti women began casting votes for the first time in a by-election for a municipal council seat, less than a year after winning full political rights in the oil-rich Gulf state.
Two women are among eight candidates running for the seat in the district of Salmiya, about 15 kilometres (10 miles) southeast of the capital.
“It’s certainly a historical moment for me. I felt very happy while casting my vote,” Afaf Abdullah, a pharmacist, told AFP outside a polling station.
“I had participated in cooperative society elections before, but the feeling here is totally different. I feel that justice has been achieved for Kuwaiti women.”
Voting began slowly as Tuesday is a normal working day but is expected to pick up before ballots close at 8 pm (1700 GMT).
The district has 28,000 eligible voters, 60 percent of whom are women, representing the Shiite minority, tribal voters and other Sunnis.
Six of the candidates are Shiites including the two women, Jenan Bushehri, holder of a masters degree in engineering and Khaleda al-Khader, a physician who has a doctorate in public health.
“I am so pleased that I have become one of the first Kuwaiti women candidates to run in elections. I have broken the ice and hope this will benefit the cause of women,” Khader told AFP at one of the polling centres.
But the mother of eight said she was somewhat disappointed to see voters cast ballots on tribal and sectarian affiliations.
“It’s ironic that some of the women voters were carrying pictures of male candidates while ignoring us,” she said.
Men and women are voting in segregated booths in accordance with a provision in the election law introduced last year by Islamist and conservative lawmakers.
Many women voters were covered from head to toe in accordance with conservative and Islamic traditions but they were required to show their faces to judges supervising the elections for identification.
One such woman however refused to remove her veil or face cover and left the polling station without voting.
Kuwaiti women were granted full political rights in a historic vote in parliament in only May 2005. The government subsequently appointed two women members of the municipal council and named the first woman cabinet minister.
The Salmiya seat fell vacant after municipal council chairman Abdullah al-Muhailbi was appointed municipality and environment minister in the new Kuwaiti cabinet formed in February.
The council — a civic body that carries out tasks such as city planning, organization and regulation of housing — has 16 members, 10 of whom are elected and the rest appointed by the emir.
Kuwaiti women will also be able to vote in the general election scheduled for 2007. At least five Kuwaiti women have publicly announced plans to run.
The interior ministry in January completed the registration of some 195,000 women voters to raise the number of eligible voters to 334,000 in the Gulf Arab state which has a native population of just under one million.
Suad Ahmad, a middle-aged housewife, said that Tuesday was perhaps one of the happiest days of her life.
“After waiting for 44 years, today I was able to participate in election and play a role in our democracy. It’s a great feeling,” Ahmad told AFP.