Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Future of Women in Kuwaiti Politics

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Future of Women in Kuwaiti Politics

Article excerpt

Five Kuwaiti women activists and professionals spoke at a panel discussion moderated by Joan D. Winship, executive director of the International Association of Women Judges, at the Kuwait Information Center in Washington, DC, on June 29. The panel discussed the implications of the May 16 decision by the country's lawmakers to grant Kuwaiti women political rights.

The speakers focused on the challenges and possibilities that face women now that they have made the first step toward achieving the legal right to participate in politics. Amal al-Khaled, the marketing and public affairs director of Kuwait News Agency, discussed the challenges of campaigning and organizing that Kuwaiti women now must confront. Despite their lack of experience, she said, her countrywomen will learn how to campaign from scratch. The extra distance they have to cover, Al-Khaled added, will make them "climb the ladder faster."

Dr. Nibal Bourisly, a professor of mass communications at Kuwait University, noted the essential role in these campaigns of the media, which, she claimed, "scrutinizes women in the political arena more than men," thereby playing a major role framing a perception of women in society. While there is nothing wrong with a woman choosing to play the traditional domestic role, Bourisly explained, "bombarding people with traditional roles makes people think that's the only role that women play."

Aroub Al-Refa'e, director of the National Council for Culture, Art, and Literature, discussed a similar struggle, pointing to a tendency among women of her region to present themselves in a way that perpetuates a male perception that they claim to reject. While women do "not [need to] necessarily wear hijab," she said, Al-Refa'e cited women's obsessive use of plastic surgery throughout the region as an example of reducing their identities to bodies instead of human beings.

Some insisted that certain gender-based associations are necessary when considering the role of women in politics. Women look at such issues as "women's problems, children's problems, [and the environment]," that "men don't think about," AlKhaled argued, humorously referencing the book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.

Dr. Nada Suliman Al-Mutawa, professor of politics at the Arab Open University in Kuwait City, told the audience that despite her initial aversion to the idea of campaigning on a platform focusing on typically "women's issues," she felt that if a woman were to campaign on an economic platform, she would not be taken seriously and would suffer at the polls. …

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