For the first time Kuwaiti women went into the polls to elect a new parliament. It was a long fight. For six years they had fought Muslim fundamentalist and conservatives before the ruling Emir could push through the legislation that allowed women to vote. Now the only Middle East country to not allow women to vote is Saudi Arabia. Of the 340,000 eligible Kuwaiti voters, 195,000 were women, fifty seven percent. While twenty-seven of the two hundred and fifty candidates were women, none of them won a seat in parliament. But don’t think women did not have an impact on the election.
According to Adan al-Shatti, one of the candidates, “All the candidates were forced to consider women’s issues in their campaigns because the women now have a lot of political weight. Basil al-Rashid, a former member of parliament seeking reelection said he concentrated his campaign on women. “They are a very important constituency, and their issues will be highlighted in the next parliament. One issue many candidates had spoken to is a law that prevents Kuwaiti women who are married to non-citizens from passing Kuwait citizenship on to their children.
When the Kuwaiti suffrage bill passed in May 2005, women thought they had plenty of time to prepare, the elections were scheduled for summer of 2007. However Kuwait’s ruler dissolved the parliament on May 21, 2006 and order elections for June 29, 2006. This left women scrambling, suddenly they had only five weeks. Women without political experience found themselves trying to find a strategy that work in this fast paced election. Fatima al-Abdali found she had to increase the size of her campaign staff and concentrate on public seminars and media appearances, rather than the personal in home visits she had been doing. Ghanim al-Najjar, a political analyst said, “They were up against season veterans. But it was constructive because it gave them good experience and training.”
Kuwait is one of the United States strongest allies in the region. In the past their experiment in democracy has been divided among sectarian lines. But with women now making a major voting block, will candidates who address issues that concern them be able to convince women to cross tribal lines and vote for them? Or will they simply vote the wishes of their husbands, fathers and brothers? Kuwaiti women are well educated; they came out to the polls in force, standing in long lines in 120-degree heat. These women are passionate about voting, and I suspect with time and experience they will be come passionate about the candidates who represent their needs. Khulood al-Feeli, a communications specialist and women’s rights activist said, “ I got goose bumps standing in front of the ballot box. I was in awe, and all the long years of struggle and the demonstrations flashed through my mind.” If only politicians could get American women that excited about voting, what a force we would be.