Elected women sworn in for first time in Kuwaiti parliamentary history

31 May 2009

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Kuwait City - When Majlis AlUmmah convenes in Kuwait today for its first session after the last elections, women will occupy 4 out of the 50 member seats of the National Assembly, as the first elected female representatives in the history of the oldest parliament in a Gulf Arab state.

The elections of 16 May 2009 were held on the fourth anniversary of the parliamentary vote which gave women the right to vote and to run for elections for the first time. In a cultural and social environment inimical to women’s acquisition and free exercise of their political rights, according to UNDPs Arab Human Development Report from 2005, it takes more than legal edicts to make gender equality in political participation a reality. Women constitute over 54% of eligible voters in Kuwait, yet they accounted for only 35% of those who voted in 2006 - the first elections that women could participate in. A recent study has also shown that in the 2008 elections only 3% of women voters cast their votes for women candidates. 

Social attitudes and actions seem to have come a long way since then.  None of the 54 women who stood for election in 2006 and 2008 made it. This time around 4 won out of the 16 women candidates who ran and in two out of five electoral constituencies, women candidates came on top of the polls.

“Since the landmark decision in May 2005 granting women the right to full political participation, UNDP Kuwait has been actively working to support efforts to maximize the chances of Kuwaiti women to exercise those newly acquired rights,” comments Mohamed Naciri, acting UNDP-Kuwait  Resident Representative. “Throughout the past three years; and in collaboration with government, UNDP and UNIFEM have teamed up with civil society organizations and women activist groups to train women on voting procedures, and to change attitudes towards women’s political activity as a legal right that is in line with Islamic jurisprudence.”

Massive media and awareness campaigns though television, posters and billboards accompanied the 2006 elections to encourage women in Kuwait to use their civic rights and responsibility to vote and to do so independently from tribal and family influences.  In addition to the awareness campaigns, groups of women have been trained to strengthen their political capacity and to prepare them to act as agents of political change.  An expanded women’s political participation project, initiated by UNDP in 2008, conduct a post-election evaluation of impediments facing women candidates.  This evaluation was carried out by Dr. Salwa Al-Jassar, one of the four newly elected female parliamentarians, sworn in today.

“In many countries it has taken around 50 years for women to successfully get elected to parliament after they had gained the right to vote. It has taken us 70 women candidates in three rounds of elections over 4 years to gain 8% of the seats of the parliament,” asserts Dr. Al-Jassar. “In due course, significant change has come. We did not need affirmative action or an electoral quota for women. We did it with persistence and systematic voter education and awareness.  This is a very promising achievement, I believe -- not only for Kuwaiti women but for all women in the Gulf and the entire Arab world.”

Contact Information

In Kuwait: Riham Al-Reshaid –Communications Focal Point, UNDP Kuwait, Email: riham.alreshaid@undp.org - Tel.:+965 25399358 Ext 215 - Fax:+965 2539 9357

In Cairo:  Noeman AlSayyad –Communications Advisor – Regional Centre in Cairo, Email:  noeman.alsayyad@undp.org - Tel.:+ 20 [2] 25 78 48 40/6 - Fax:+20 [2]  25 78 48 47

In New York: Sausan Ghosheh – Communications Officer – UNDP Office of Communications, Email: sausan.ghosheh@undp.org  - Tel. :+1 [212] 906-5390 - Fax:+1 [212] 906 53 64