July 3 2006
Kuwaiti women 'victorious' despite election failure
Lamia Radi AFP
Woman underneath banner at pre-election rally for parliamentary candidate Fatima al-Abdali
KUWAIT CITY -- Kuwaiti women view their first-ever participation in legislative polls in the oil-rich emirate as a victory despite the failure of female candidates to win any seats.
"We have not won, but it was without any doubt a victory for the Kuwaiti woman. We have lost in votes, but won an experience," said Fatima Al Abdali, who ran as a candidate in the June 29 election.
"It is a victory that women who ran for the first time ever came fourth or fifth [in some constituencies] given the course of political life," Abdali said.
Men were voting in for parliament for the 11th time since 1962, unlike women who were granted full political rights including voting and running as candidates only in May 2005.
Twenty-eight women figured among a total of 249 candidates, but none was elected, although women represented 57 percent of the 340,000 eligible voters.
Abdali, who is secretary-general of a women's network and heads the environment department in national oil giant Kuwait Petroleum, was the only female candidate running against 14 men in her district.
She collected 804 votes compared to 1,500 for her male rival who won the seat.
"Some men who were running for the first time did not receive more than 10 votes," she said, proud of her performance.
The best two female performers in the ballot were Rula Dashti, and Nabila Al Anjari, who won 1,540 votes and 1,056 votes respectively.
Abdali said that she believed that women's entry into parliament is just a "matter of time" and that the June 29 poll served as a valuable lesson.
"Men [candidates] remained on solid ground thanks to their previous experience in running in elections, unlike women who have thrown themselves into the political arena for the first time," she said.
The ability to provide services to voters was another advantage for men, mainly outgoing MPs who were standing again.
"Compared to $1,000 spent by a female candidate on her campaign, an MP offered 1,000 services needed by his constituency, thanks to his access to various organizations," she said.
"The fact that the woman still follows the man who manipulates her to reach his own ends has also played a role in favor of male candidates," she charged, accusing men of influencing the vote of women.
"Unfortunately, Islamist sectarianism and tribalism are still rooted in society and have largely contributed to the defeat of women," she added.
She anticipated a reverse in the status of women rights in the oil-rich emirate as Islamists have increased their seats in the parliament from 18 to 21.
Using their legislative force, Islamists will "oppose possible reforms that are favorable to women," she said.
"Had women, who count some 3,500 voters in my district, voted for me, I would have come first," she lamented.
Aisha Al Rashid, another candidate who failed to make it into parliament, said that women have learned lessons from their first legislative polls.
"We learned a lot from this experience. This is the beginning and not the end of our course. We have gained in force and determination," she said.
Being the only woman competing with six men, she gathered 350 votes in her district of Keifan, which is dominated by radical Islamists.
"Men have exploited women in this campaign. In the past, women rights did not find a place on the agenda of male electoral campaigns. Now, the woman has become a major voting force and men have started courting her," she said referring, to promises made by male candidates to uphold women's issues.
"We will be vigilant and watch their acts carefully. Those candidates who fail to fulfill their promises made to women will be largely denounced by women organizations," she added.