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The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.


On May 16, 2005, the women of Kuwait, standing together, won a prize they had been working toward for years – the right to vote and run for election. On May 16, 2009, the promise of that achievement came to fruition. Four women, running competitive, professional campaigns, won seats in Kuwait’s 50-member parliament.

A remarkable aspect of the victories of Massouma Al Mubarak, Salwa al Jassar, Aseel al Awadhi and Rola Dashti was their margin of victory, which was much higher than most observers expected. The vote marked a significant departure from the 2008 election and was seen as a repudiation of previous parliaments’ lack of progress and the desire of Kuwaiti voters to see real change.

The result benefitted the four successful women candidates, who received 38,549 votes, compared to a total of 21,352 votes received by all of the 27 women running last year. Parliamentarians are elected to four-year terms with the top 10 vote-getters in each of five districts earning a seat. But the Emir may dissolve the legislature and call for new elections at any time, which was the case in 2006, 2008 and this year.

In addition to the four women who were victorious, other women also did better than in the past. For example, Thikra Rashidi, running in a large, conservative district dominated by tribal interests, received more than 6,600 votes.

Many of this year’s leading women candidates, including al Awadhi, al Jassar and Dashti, had run in previous elections and we were able to build upon experience going back to 2006. For example, al Awadhi came in second in her district, receiving more than double the number of votes she polled last year, when she was in 11th place.

NDI first began working in Kuwait in 2004, assisting advocates for women's political rights in developing an effective strategy to win universal suffrage. NDI met with leaders in the suffrage movement, held consultations with Kuwaiti women activists and provided women with advocacy tools specifically targeted at passage of the women’s suffrage legislation.

Following the announcement granting women the right to vote and run for office, NDI held its fourth Partners in Participation Regional Campaign School in Kuwait. More than 70 women activists and leaders from 15 countries across the Middle East and North Africa, including 20 Kuwaiti women, met to share their experiences, learn how to run successful political campaigns and help build a regional network of women with the skills to succeed in politics over the long term.

During the 2006, 2008 and 2009 elections, NDI continued extensive campaign skills training, working with women candidates, civil society activists and opinion leaders to develop political skills for those either running for office or interested in running in the future.

Topics were wide-ranging, but this year there was a specific focus on the use of new media and online organizing technologies, critical in a country like Kuwait with a large number of educated elites and a powerful technological infrastructure.

NDI ran intensive programming leading up to the elections, working with candidates, organized political groups and civil society organizations with a special focus on women candidates. NDI also greatly expanded its civil society programming, including a partnership with Kuwait Transparency Society (KTS) on two programs. The first used the web and social networking to encourage young people to participate in the elections. The second supported an election monitoring program in which NDI and KTS trained observers and helped organize the reporting system used by KTS monitors to alert the society to issues on Election Day.

  • More:
    Read biographical information on the four women elected to the Kuwaiti parliament on May 16 | Read article »

Pictured above: The Kuwaiti National Assembly building, top, and a post-election headline from the Arab Times newspaper.

Published on May 22, 2009