Monday, June 1, 2009

A Woman's Place Is In the House ... And the National Assembly

Women here in the US gained the right to vote in 1920, nearly a century and a half after (white, property-owning) men had cast their ballots. That was a year before the Arab nation of Kuwait held its inaugural parliamentary election, and it took another 85 years for women to gain the right to vote.

Yet, in the four years since the very first Kuwaiti women voted for her parliamentary representative, women have come to occupy 8% of the 50 member seats of the National Assembly - for comparison's sake, after 90 years of women's suffrage, a total of only 17% of of U.S. House members and senators are female.

How did Kuwait do it? Remarkably, they didn't use a quota system reserving a certain number of elected seats for women, although that policy has brought greater gender equality to the legislatures of many nations, developed and developing alike. UNDP and UNIFEM worked together with civil society organizations and women's groups to boost women's turnout in the polls, and, as UNDP-Kuwait Resident Representative Mohamed Naciri put it, "to change attitudes towards women’s political activity as a legal right that is in line with Islamic jurisprudence."

Check out a public service announcement encouraging women to vote for the candidate they support, not the one that their husbands and fathers prefer. Then, read more about UNDP's work in Kuwaiti elections here.