Kuwaiti women hit the polls

No female candidates were elected in the historic parliamentary election, but it's still a big step for the country.

Published June 30, 2006 6:17PM (EDT)

Kuwait held its much-anticipated parliamentary election Thursday, marking the first time the country's women were able to vote for parliamentary candidates or run for office. Twenty-eight women and 221 men were in contention for Kuwait's 50 National Assembly seats, but ultimately no women were elected; at the end of the day, the country still had an all-male Parliament.

Reuters observes, "Women candidates had expected to win at least one seat as women made up 57 percent of the 340,000 eligible voters." But just because the country has taken a critial step for women's rights doesn't automatically mean all the country's women welcome the changes. The wire service notes that "turnout among women voters was only 35 percent and, among those who did vote, many said they had been obliged to turn out by male relatives or felt that women lacked the experience or character for political life."

It's hard to know whether Reuters' exit polling accurately reflects Kuwaiti voter sentiment, but it's not surprising that women voters would hold diverse views, or that they'd prioritize their views over gender parity. "I'd rather find the one (a candidate) who can represent my thoughts than one who represents my gender. It's not a 'woman and man' thing," women's rights activist Altaf al-Essa said. Sounds familiar.

It's too bad that Kuwait's precedent-setting election didn't yield any precedent-setting female parliamentarians. But the country's historic voting change is a gift that will keep on giving: Women will continue to be able to vote and run for office in coming elections, and those may go differently. Rola Dashti, an economist and the most successful female candidate of the election, told Reuters, "We'll keep up our struggle and will fight until we see women in parliament." Liberal secularist candidate Taibeh Ibrahim agreed: "At least now, I'm famous. I'm not sorry for what happened. I will run for parliament next time because I want to break the barrier."

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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