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30 Jun, 2006 08:07

First-time poll for women of Kuwait

First-time poll for women of Kuwait

Women have been voting for the first time in Kuwait. Undeterred by the stifling Gulf heat, thousands went to poll in a turnout reported as heavy.

Though having to cast their ballots in separate polling stations, as demanded by Islamists rejecting female suffrage, Kuwait's newly-enfranchised women are optimistic about their role in the country's future, both as voters and candidates for political office.

“Women will vote for the qualified, they will vote for the benefit of the country, her candidate sister, and will take part in the democratic process because the future of Kuwait needs women in the parliament,” said one woman at the election. “God willing, the women will not hold Kuwait back. Our goal is the future of Kuwait, we will not hold it back.”

Law giving women the right to vote and stand as candidates in elections for the 50-seat national assembly was passed in May last year. Now, women constitute around 57 per cent of Kuwait's 340,000-strong electorate. In this election, 28 women are among 250 candidates running for office.

Despite the enthusiasm, even the most positive predictions suggest women will win no more than one or two seats. Entrenched conservatism means a lingering hostility remains towards female candidates. Some have complained of having their election posters defaced. But for most, and despite the obstacles, the chance to express themselves through the ballot is cause enough for celebration.