We will probably need the quota as a first step

Kuwait gives its citizens many democratic rights in comparison to other Golf monarchies and is also ahead regarding women’s rights. Yet there is not a single woman in Parliament. I travelled to the country and spoke to Kuwaiti MPs, ministers and representatives of women’s organizations. An interview

What exactly was your concern and what did you take away from the trip?

Kuwait is the country in the region where citizens have the most far-reaching democratic influence, even though of course much is yet to be done. Citizens can vote on the composition of Parliament, although it remains the monarch’s prerogative to appoint the government. Due to the success of the so-called “Blue Revolution”, Kuwaiti women have had the right to vote and stand for elections since 2005. However, so far only very few women have been able to enter parliament; at the last general election in 2020, not a single woman was elected to the 50-member parliament.

At my trip, I wanted to learn more about how to improve this situation and ensure that more women choose to run for political office in future – and are successful in doing so. Above all, I wanted to get a better grasp of the suggestions and wishes of representatives of women’s organisations and understand what opportunities exist for the necessary reforms.

Who did you meet in the country?

I met a number of MEPs in Parliament. Meeting representatives of various women’s organizations was also particularly important to me. They explained to me the obstacles and challenges they face in the political process. Together we developed strategies on how an appropriate number of women can be represented in the Kuwaiti parliament in the next legislative period. It is clear that this will hardly be achieved without legal reforms.

A few days after your visit to Kuwait, you met with Kuwaiti Parliament Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanim and two other MPs here in Brussels. What did you discuss?

The Speaker of Parliament presented me with a bill aimed at strengthening women’s representation. A quota is to be introduced that would de facto guarantee women at least 20 percent of seats in Parliament.

In the last legislative period, not a single woman entered the parliament, which has 50 members. How do you see the situation of women in Kuwaiti politics and where do you think there is room for improvement? What are Kuwait’s efforts in this regard?

I believe that a quota is absolutely necessary in Kuwait. Quotas for women in parliamentary elections have been introduced in a number of Arab countries, including Egypt, Iraq, Tunisia, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. And in all of these states, the statutory quota has served its purpose. In Kuwait, first of all, it must be ensured that women are represented in parliament at all. This way, other women can see that there is definitely room for women in politics. Those women who win their seats thanks to the quota then have a role model function for many others who may come after them.

In Kuwait there are many highly qualified women in business, philanthropy and academia – but not in politics. The quota is a means of changing this situation. It should be understood as a clear commitment to a society where women and men have equal rights.

On your travels you regularly meet with representatives of civil society. Why was that so important to you regarding Kuwait?

Politics is much more than exchanges between MPs / government officials and other MPs / government officials. It is important to also enter into dialogue with civil society, especially where it does not see itself represented by members of parliament. That’s why I met in Kuwait with representatives of women’s organizations. Of course, we not only discussed the electoral law, but also topics such as domestic violence or the fact that Kuwaiti women who are married to foreigners cannot pass on Kuwaiti citizenship to their children. It is absurd that issues affecting half the population can only be raised in Parliament if there is goodwill of the other half.

How has Kuwaiti society reacted so far to the efforts of the speaker of parliament and many others to introduce a women’s quota in parliament?

There is, of course, great support for such a law on the part of women’s organizations. They know that otherwise, having higher proportions of women enter parliament will remain a distant dream. People in parliament and in politics in general have different opinions regarding the topic. In theory, everyone seems to be in favour of getting more women MPs into Parliament. Opinions differ on how to get there. Some believe that there should be no influence on the electoral mechanisms, while others demand the quota. The Speaker of Parliament has now drawn up a concrete proposal that can serve as a basis for discussion. This brings new impetus to the debate. I want to contribute helpful arguments in this regard. Ultimately, the people of Kuwait will decide the outcome of this debate – but it should be ensured that women are adequately represented in the next parliament and have a say in such issues in the future.

Is a quota sufficient, or are further measures required?

Of course still more needs to be done, but the quota would be a good start. Encouraging women to run for office in the first place is vital. Since there are no political parties in Kuwait, everyone is on their own in the election campaign, has to develop a programme, organize their election campaign and raise the necessary financial resources. It would be helpful to support women in precisely these areas during the election campaign. For example, women need better access to the traditionally male-dominated „Diwanyias“: These are places where many different people come together to negotiate political positions and network – i.e. an ideal stage for candidates to present themselves and their election programme. It is also important to strengthen women’s presentation and speaking skills, i.e. giving them the necessary knowledge, techniques and confidence. Very few have practised this from an early age, unlike their male counterparts.

In addition, measures would have to be developed to protect women against attacks from the outside, for example hate speech. Men in particular have an important role to play here: They must publicly condemn such attacks and take a firm stance against hate campaigns – including online. The debate about the quota is already focusing on the more difficult conditions female candidates are confronted with. But more and better social education and more awareness are needed. I have women in Kuwait who have said very clearly: “With a quota in place, I would run for a seat in parliament, but not without.” In Kuwait, the situation is similar to ours in that respect. We will probably need the quota as a first step to break traditional patterns.

Addendum: On Wednesday, 22 June, the Kuwaiti crown prince dissolved parliament and called for early elections. The reason was a feud between the government and the elected parliament. This feud had obstructed a tax reform.

The snap election should now ensure that women are adequately represented in parliament!

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