Kuwaitis wonder why even the women voted for men

Some women suggested on social media that time has come for a quota system.
Monday 07/12/2020
Kuwaiti women cast their ballots at a polling station during parliamentary elections in Kuwait City on December 5, 2020. (AFP)
Kuwaiti women cast their ballots at a polling station during parliamentary elections in Kuwait City on December 5, 2020. (AFP)

KUWAIT – The curtain has fallen on the legislative elections in Kuwait. Preliminary results show that women gained no new seats in the new parliament and that the only female incumbent, Safa al-Hashem, failed to win re-election.

While 29 women ran for office in Saturday’s race, none were elected — a blow to the status of women who have fought hard in recent years for more representation in the oil-rich emirate after winning the right to vote just 15 years ago.

This leaves the National Assembly without any female representation, although women constitute 52% of eligible voters.

Kuwaiti MP Safaa al-Hashem speaks during a parliament session at Kuwait’s national assembly in Kuwait City, on January 10, 2017. (AFP)
Kuwaiti MP Safaa al-Hashem speaks during a parliament session at Kuwait’s national assembly in Kuwait City, on January 10, 2017. (AFP)

In 2005, the National Assembly gave women the right to vote and to run for office. Out of 15 women who ran in the 2016 election, only one, Safa al-Hashem, won a seat (she was first elected in 2012).

Women turned out to vote in large numbers in Kuwait’s parliamentary elections in many electoral districts. News websites and media covering the polling documented high female turnout in five districts.

There have been striking videos circulating on social media accounts, including by some accounts reputed to be close to the Muslim Brotherhood. There was praise for the strong participation of fully-veiled women who some described as “invading the polling stations at the last minute, in an attempt to change the outcome of the vote.” One reporter described the niqab-clad women  as “the black army.”

Some people on Twitter celebrated the participation of conservative women. “Those who will alter the balance in the election game have just arrived,” said Bassam Al-Shatti, a professor in the Department of Faith and Da’wa at Kuwait University. He tweeted: “#National Assembly elections 2020.. A heart-warming view of the women of Kuwait. They have voted in the elections… Theirs was a demonstration of chastity, concealment and decency of Kuwaiti women …”

Tweets from individuals affiliated with religious ultraconservatives used emotional rhetoric and lachrymose nostalgia describing “Islam that has been lost” and repeated improbable fatwas by some so-called scholars.

Some said that the fact that no woman was elected despite strong female participation was “evidence that women themselves are not convinced of the role of women.”

Others said the matter was due to customs and traditions and that most female voters were obeying the orders of their husbands, fathers or male relatives on how to vote, stressing that “the true enemy of women is the social upbringing that has transformed their own feelings towards themselves.”

Lawyer Nevin Abdel Wahid Marafie said: “I have advocated for the women’s cause, the stability of the Kuwaiti family, and the provision of safe housing for women when I saw how they were evicted from their homes with their children. Unfortunately, women did not support their own cause and instead supported the men who abused them.”

Kuwaiti writer Abdul Aziz Alqenaei said that the absence of women from the National Assembly is “reason for great disappointment, and a reflection of utter intellectual and cultural decline.” He wrote on Twitter that women had not won seats in parliament because of  “the persistence of the view of women as inferior to men, and a direct failure to support the efforts to empower Kuwaiti women, at the level of education, society, political and civil currents, and associations of public interest.”

He added: “Democracy without secularism does not necessarily mean the separation of religion from the state, but rather depends on the choices of the majority of the people, which may support the integration of religion into the state, and thus keep the problems of citizenship, identity. This is bound to keep religion growing in Arab societies with deficient democracies.”

For her part, Professor of Literature and Psychoanalysis at Kuwait University Haifa Al-Sanousi said: “What is striking is that the Kuwaiti people decided to exclude women from Parliament in 2020. Kuwaiti women played a major role in the elections. It is clear that women — and not only men — have decided to exclude women from the assembly. This is a psychological indicator that greatly reflects the confidence of women in men as representing them in the assembly.”

Kuwaiti women wait to cast their votes at a polling station in Kuwait City during parliamentary elections on December 5, 2020. (AFP)
Kuwaiti women wait to cast their votes at a polling station in Kuwait City during parliamentary elections on December 5, 2020. (AFP)

Since 2006, only 6 women have won seats in parliament: Massouma al-Mubarak, Aseel Al-Awadhi, Rola Dashti, Thekra al-Rashidi, Salwa Al-Jassar, and Safa al-Hashem, despite the large number of female voters.

Some pointed out on Twitter that the time has come to implement a quota system. Kuwaiti writer Dalaa al-Mufti said “Congratulations to those who won … and better luck in the upcoming assemblies to those who lost …Our regret and sorrow is that we have delivered an assembly without Kuwaiti women. I think the ‘quota’ system has become necessary.”

While some welcomed the election results, others criticised them. One tweet read: “A National assembly … half of which is not represented! A parliament without women … it is a parliament that cannot represent the nation even if its members claim otherwise! National Assembly elections 2020.”

Saudi writer Abdullah Al-Alami wrote on Twitter that the “fear of the success of women in the Arab world is an intractable pathological condition.”

Other users said that women’s lack of success is due to women’s previous experiences in the National Assembly.

Some pointed to the alleged failure of Hashem, which sparked a wave of mixed reactions.

Hashem was prominent for her populist, anti-expatriate rhetoric, demanding that expatriates not be granted licenses to drive cars and be compelled to pay taxes for walking on the streets.

Hashem ranked 30th, receiving only 430 votes, placing her behind new female candidate Sheikha Al-Jassim, who lost her bid as she ranked 25th.