By Mariam Al-Ayyoub
Despite earning our political right to vote in 2006, the parliament is still represented and led by male figures, though many women candidates did make a difference later on within the political arena. We are still striving and yearning for Kuwaiti women to play a more active role in the society and in the political future of our country.
In Kuwait, women are legally granted, the right to participate and contribute to the public opinion in state affairs, therefore, Kuwaiti women's voice in the electoral process and in voting and running candidacy, plays a key role in building a better future for the country and to construct a balanced and equitable community. Speaking to Kuwait Times, Dr. Haneen Al-Ghabra, Associate Professor of Communication and Cultural Studies at Kuwait University, shared her insights about several issues and challenges faced by women in the political showground. Speaking about the major obstacles that women face as Members of the Parliament (MP), she said, "I think one of the major problems that is making it difficult for everyone in the country is the current electoral system. When we went from a four-voting system to one system in 2012, this hurt not only women in the society but Kuwait as a whole."
"There are a couple of reasons that worsened things for women in the country such as corruption, with the prevalent practice of vote buying - accusing even the four women MPs who formerly made it to parliament in 2009. Since then, the number of women in the parliament have decreased due to discrimination. We have not even reached the level where women are facing serious obstacles in the parliament, because we can't even get elected, to begin with," explained Al-Ghabra.
She pointed out that expectations to change the societal outlook were also equally important to move ahead in the society adding that "it all depended on the leadership."
"Kuwait is at a crossroad right now, where we can move forward and develop the country by fighting corruptive practices - be it in education, in the electoral process, in economic development or in other sectors." Regarding the importance of women's involvement in the parliament, Al-Ghabra noted. "We need to have representatives from all sections of the society and this includes women. So, we aren't only speaking of having different ethnic groups, but it is to be noted that women are the only group who are systematically not included in the process. Also, women are more likely to work on policies that affect women."
Al-Ghabra added that reports and statistics have showed that there is less corruption in countries that have women in the government. She also added that women were better at solving problems, engaging in conflict resolution and initiating efforts at peacebuilding, but also more importantly are less likely to succumb to political manipulation and corruption. "If we look at previous reports of women in the government, they are better communicators and prioritize education and health which are integral aspects of a society."
Al-Ghabra also said, "In order to plan for a better future for Kuwaiti women in the parliament; the society must embrace the idea of improved legitimacy of women in politics for the upcoming generation. Hence, it all depends on leadership and on how much we can change in terms of our current mentality around women still being treated as second-class citizens. Women should also speak up for the sake of change and for an optimistic future."
"It takes reflection and practice - it's like riding a bicycle - we need to train ourselves first to be able to catch ourselves being privileged and oppressing others without even realizing it. We also need men as allies on our side and we need women as well to unite together for the cause," she added.
Meanwhile, Dr Reem Al-Eidan, political activist and former parliamentary candidate, stated "Among the most prominent obstacles that women candidates are facing are the negative social restrictions and the lack of opportunities for Kuwaiti women to present her electoral program through gatherings and bureaus, as well as the difficulties in obtaining financial support - so there is no equal opportunity in the democratic field."
"The obstacles are deliberately being implemented, by not giving women the opportunity to express their views and opinions. A woman's voice would also highlight a better involvement in politics, where the percentage of female voters exceeds male voters, due to their strong desire to express their voice and obtain their rights in light of the rapid changes."
As an optimistic view of women's participation in the parliament in the future, she said that currently a comprehensive system serves both genders, but the enactment of laws and legislation is through a patriarchal vision as is thought customary, adding, "A woman can be quite efficient in planning strategies. Kuwaiti women are able, without any doubt, to participate in amending legislation and laws in line, with globalization and with the vision of 2035." "We do not deny the endeavors of previous female candidates. They spearheaded the initiative and they were at the forefront of the parliamentary movement, but our ambition is to attain greater achievement and with all hope, the future female candidates would continue the legacy," she continued.
Speaking about the role of women in the parliament and a change in the allocation system, Al-Eidan said, "One of the primary demands for women has been the application of the quota. Kuwaiti women have experience with leadership skills, which qualifies them to occupy seats in the parliament. As a society, it is required to change our traditional outlook of Kuwaiti women and the opportunities she is given, to also include her voice in sectors such as education, health system, and civil rights."
"In Kuwait, as we get closer to date for the elections, it is a very complex and vital time for us to be responsible and choose accountable and energetic candidates, hopefully with women being in the center of the discussion and their voices and opinions listened to, as well."
Since the introduction of women's suffrage in 2006, the number of women elected to parliament has been very less. Only ten women have been made members of parliament and none were elected in the 2020 election, leading to an all-male parliament. Significant changes have been achieved and suffrage has made an impact on women's political roles in Kuwait, but governmental support is needed to facilitate the desired changes and overcome existent challenges.