Women and the Kuwaiti National Assembly

Article excerpt

Abstract

Kuwaiti women's long struggle for a seat in the National Assembly culminated with remarkable success on May 16, 2009. For the very first time in Kuwait's political history, the women's movement managed to send four female representatives to the National Assembly. Their electoral success ushers a new phase in Kuwait's political process in which women finally become active participants. The goal of this article is to examine women's struggle for political rights, their electoral success, their role in current Kuwaiti politics, their accomplishments, and their future in politics in Kuwait.

Keywords: Kuwait, Women's National Assembly, Sunni, Shi'i Islam, Electoral Impediments, Electoral Success.

Introduction

The long struggle of Kuwaiti women for parliamentary representation came to fruition on May 16, 2009 when Masooma Al Mubarak, Salwa Al Jassar, Aseel Al Awadi and Rula Dashti were elected to the National Assembly for the first time in Kuwait's history. Their success puts an end to the patriarchal monopoly over the legislature, and puts an end to five decades of struggle for women to gain their basic constitutional rights. Their march for political participation spanned over the past fifty years, since the early days of Kuwait's independence. In fact, their struggle went parallel to the socio-economic and political developments in the country since the mid- Twentieth Century onward. Kuwait was a British colony from 1899-1961, gained its independence in 1961, enhanced it "between" 1961-1990, and enjoyed remarkable levels of socio-economic and political development. However, Kuwait fell under the Iraqi occupation on August 2nd, 1990, and regained its independence five months later with the assistance of an international coalition that evicted Iraqi forces from the country. In the post-Iraqi period, Kuwait still deals with its consequences, and attempts to recover from such an event in the spheres of politics, social, economic, regional, and international relations.

Kuwaiti women have been an integral part of Kuwait's political history and its struggles and triumphs. However, Kuwaiti patriarchal society failed to recognize women's contributions to the country, or recognize their constitutional rights until 2005, and at last in 2009 women managed to send female representatives to the National Assembly for the first time.

The political history of Kuwait spans over three major periods; the pre-oil Kuwait which began in the early Eighteenth Century to 1961, the independent Kuwait from 1961 to the Iraqi invasion on August 2, 1990 and the Post-liberation Kuwait from 1991 to the present. In the pre-oil era, Kuwait was a small port with limited resources in the Arabian Gulf. The Emirate entered in a protection agreement with Britain in 1899 and granted independence in 1961. In the era of independence, Kuwait was a vibrant society empowered by an animated government, and endowed with abundance of oil wealth.

However, its developmental efforts were greatly hampered by some domestic, regional, and international challenges that shaped its politics over the past half of the century. These include domestic, political, sectarian, and social strife, Gulf and Middle Eastern turbulence, Arab nationalism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iranian Revolution, political Islam, the Iraq-Iran War, the Iraqi invasion, the American occupation of Iraq, and the current War on Terrorism. In spite of such challenges, Kuwait has managed to rebuild itself and provide a rich experience in democratization in the region, but its democratic process has not yet grown strong roots due to the constant discord between the government and the parliament. Currently, Kuwait is freer than most Arab countries, albeit cautious, and its politics are governed by security fears and sectarian divides among the Sunni and Shi'i communities.

Kuwait tried to maintain more or less frequent elections, but held a sort of parliamentary structure since the early years of the 20th Century. …