At the end of May 2007, the AWARE Center in Surra, Kuwait invited three noted female Kuwaiti activists to speak on and reflect on the previous year's elections. That is when women voted and ran for office of their National Parliament in Kuwait for the first time in that nation's history. The first speaker was Lubna Al-Kazi who has been active in the women's rights movement in Kuwait for several decades. She was followed by a younger outspoken economist named Dr. Rola Dashti. Finally, a statistical analysis of tendencies of Kuwait voters was given by Dr. Khadeeja Al-Mahameed, who noted that she had been participating in the movement for franchise in Kuwait since 1972.
After a slight disruption by one local human rights activists who shouted slogans and made complaints against the Ambassador of the United Kingdom, Stewart Laing-- who was in attendance to hear the three women speakers--, Lubna Al-Kazi gave a short historical overview of the movement to enfranchise Kuwaiti women. She explained first that from its inception, the 1962 constitution of Kuwait never has specifically prohibited women from political action or participation.
Lubna Al-Kazi indicated that the women of Kuwait had nearly received the vote in the 1970s before other disorienting political matters arose in the country. Al-Nazi did not note exactly what these other matters were, but most Kuwaitis would have recognized these issues as (1) the rise of fundamentalists and radical fundamentalism, (2) ethnic conflict in Kuwait and in the region, and (3) the wars in Iran, Iraq and Kuwait itself-all pushed the women's demands off of center stage.
Women were very active in the resistance against Iraq during the occupation in 1991-1992. Meanwhile, Kuwait's Government in Exile promised women the right to enfranchisement. Sadly, once the government returned to office in 1992, the same government leadership soon indicated that it would be at least 1997 before women could vote or run for office.
By 1995, a grand coalition of men and women, known as the COMMITTEE ON WOMEN'S ISSUES, had been organized and became very active. This movement included women--with and without abeyas (head coverings)--, young women, and both male and females of various age groups who took part in a series of demonstrations and sit-down strikes all over the country at the headquarters or meeting places of the male-only political groupings.
Al-Nazi noted that over the previous decades various Kuwaiti women and women's groups had tried to sue in court to obtain the right to vote. Nonetheless, once again in 1997, women of Kuwait failed to receive the vote right from the all-male dominated--and increasingly tradition oriented--national parliament.
This is why the Emir of Kuwait in a special governmental proclamation attempted to give women the franchise in 1999. However, at that time the Parliament of Kuwait was not in session. Therefore, tragically when the parliament returned to session that year, it overturned the Emir's proclamation by taking the case to the Supreme Court of Kuwait.
Meanwhile, more and more women and other interested groups continued to file suits against discrimination against women in various Kuwait courts. Finally, a new long sustained series of protests at the national parliament of Kuwait began in March 2005. This movement included a sustained series of protests at the national parliament of Kuwait. This particular campaign was called simply "NOW"-as in "Give Women the Franchise Now!" To the relief of many Kuwaitis-both male and female--, the Kuwaiti Parliament in mid-May 2005 passed the law giving women full-participation in elections as voters and candidates.
ANALYSIS OF WOMEN IN 2006 ELECTIONS
By early spring 2006, women were voting and running for offices in local elections. One of them who ran in those local elections was Dr. Dashti, who spoke second. To the surprise of the sadly somewhat disorganized women's organizations-who had apparently slacked off after receiving the vote the year earlier--, the Parliament was closed by the Emir and snap elections were called. They were set for the first part of summer 2006.
In all, there was only about thirty-days allowed for the Parliamentary election period. Nonetheless, despite being caught off-guard, women's groups, female campaigners, and various female organizations--who had just finished participating for local elections in April 2006--gave their best to make a good showing in the elections set for later June 2006 in Kuwait. Eventually, Kuwaiti women from all quarters of society came out in full force during one of the hottest months of the year to run or to support other female candidates.
Dr. Rola Dashti noted in her speech given at the AWARE Center that there were many pleasant surprises everywhere to be observed as women participated in national elections in Kuwait for the first time in the nation's history.
First of all, it turned out that the 27 women who, in fact, did announce their candidacies and run for parliament represented all age groups and all segments of Kuwaiti society. The candidates were from a tremendous variety of backgrounds: rich, poor, conservative, modern, single, married, divorced, tribal-oriented, city oriented, non-educated, & college-educated.
There were women who wore abeyas, there were women who wore birkas (face coverings), and there were modern un-covered female candidates. In short, the female Kuwaiti candidates were as diverse as anyone could have ever hoped for.
More surprises in June 2006 included the fact that all of the strongly male-clannish groups around the nation opened their private meeting places to the women candidates and women voters for the first time. More importantly, these women candidates were taken seriously and, according to Dashti, were given very serious treatment in the questions raised by these male-only organizations.