Expert Insight

My Parliamentary Experience – Facts and Challenges Former member of Kuwait National Assembly Associate Professor of Faculty of Education – Kuwait University . D. Salwa Abdullah Al Jassar


Expanding effective female participation in the political life and ensuring women’s involvement in the political struggle has become an important and vital issue. Women representation in leadership positions such as parliament members is crucial and affects the social, political, economic, and cultural life all over the world, and Kuwait is no exception.  There is no question that we have to work harder towards the goal of achieving gender equality. Unfortunately, despite the successful election of 4 highly qualified women who managed to join such an important legislative institution through free election in 2009, there continues to be ongoing negative reactions in terms of accepting women in parliament. Kuwaiti women’s political practice through parliament work is still a major challenge and there are many obstacles in the way of allowing women to practice their full citizen rights

This paper asserts that we still need coordinated work targeting all aspects of political practice starting from the decision to run for parliament as a candidate up to sustaining and maintaining a strong presence in parliament.  As a previous parliament member, it was through ongoing family and social support, resources, media, and careful planning and collaboration that I was enabled to be an effective political figure able to work with colleagues to address important issues concerning both men and women.


Throughout my experience as a parliament member, I realized the extent to which such supports are paramount to push women to win and run for parliament membership and to contribute in such membership in the highest standards. Unfortunately, there are several challenges that still prevent women to become a member of parliament including the following:

  • Role and impact of explicit and implicit gender bias: In many ways, our social construct still reinforces certain gender stereotype roles where leadership is a male dominated and women are not seen as leaders and political influencers.
  • The absence of women leaders further perpetuates this cycle where men in office make the rules and set the stage and expectations irrelevant of their expertise and competence. This lack of women mentorship and role modeling creates a divide in favor of men. Given the historical influence of leadership positions being solely occupied by male figures and societal influence, there is often unjust concern about the competence and confidence of women as leaders. Moreover, women who are assertive leaders may be viewed by society as overly dominating especially when society views women as departing from their so-called more soft-spoken, emotional traits.
  • The role of cultural norms where a man’s voice is often heard louder than a woman’s voice. Culturally, the person you chose to vote for is influenced by who the family decides to vote for, ie. often the male figures in the family and occasionally the elders will decide who the vote will go for. This so-called lack of an informed, free decision further perpetuates the cycle of men vote for men and their female family members will vote for who they are asked to vote to. This is also evident among some highly educated families. 
  • Over generations, men have been ahead of the election game and have set the rules. This creates a more challenging environment for women to join because women are rather new to the arena and all the rules are not clearly identified. Ultimately, men are more advantaged and supported. They consider women as freshmen in politics whose opinions are often deemed inferior. Unfortunately, this lack of mentorship creates a sense of lack of collaboration between election candidates feeding into the winners and losers game, rather than creating an invitation for cooperation and collaboration.
  • Given that men are colloquially far more favored in the leadership arena and given that it will take more effort to create and sustain gender equity and reform, the spectacle on the performance of male leaders is far more forgiving than the spectacle on women leaders.  Despite occupying the same seat in parliament, the evaluation of each member is different and based mostly on gender and popularity, rather than competence and deliverables.
  • Culturally, one of the most impactful locations to practice one’s political voice and gain the confidence of the public are at men’s gatherings called “Dewaween” which deprives women runners from sharing such a space and platform from which they can embark on their political journey.
  • Lack of transparent social media and media support of women often portraying women as incompetent or inferior.
  • Impact of certain Islamic figures and religious groups on questioning the role and integrity of women in parliament office despite the double standard that is set in which they work hard to get women votes via their impact on their male counterparts.
  • Male domination in parliament involves passing more laws in favor of men in general, often leading to imbalanced interests between men and women.
  • Large financial cost associated with running for office

During my parliamentary career I managed to achieve the following:

  • provide a positive, confident presence as a woman in parliament with plans that were well-studied and well-thought out and based on clear public needs and a clear, uninfluenced, transparent vision
  • provided opportunities for public to reach out
  • Presented 27 law drafts, some of them have been passed.
  • 43 Recommendations
  • 24 Parliamentary Inquiry
  • As a member of the Parliamentary Committee of Women and Children, I presented 11 amendment drafts and recommendations, having some of them passed in 2011:

* Law No. (1) Amendment to the Law No. 30/1965 on establishing the Credit Bank, to include additional categories of Kuwaiti women citizens that have not been included before.

* Law No. (2) Amendment Draft recommending the amendment of some provisions of the Law No. 47 on Housing Welfare.

* Law No. (6) On Expatriates Residency in Kuwait.

* Some resolutions have been passed at the Civil Service Commission:

- Maternal leaves.

- Granting female governmental staff special leaves to take care of a sick child.

- Amendment of the Special Leave provisions.

- Granting full paid leave for governmental staffs for attending spouses.

Women and Subsidiary Elections

Unfortunately, political capital has become a massive power controlling many candidates and voters as well to the extent that it dominates several electoral sections. Moreover, the role of subsidiary elections as a means of gaining social and political capital is quite dangerous and further widens the gender leadership parity gap. Locally, social and political capital is seen in the domination and control of tribal, sectarian, and social issues over the elections i.e. voting for a specific candidate based on such affiliations irrespective of competence and efficiency. Women are the easiest votes for domination due to familial considerations and constraints as explained above. It has also been evident that votes can be bought, thus tampering with the integrity of the voting process.  Therefore, democracy in Kuwait is not a transparent, informed process despite the fact that the Kuwaiti voters are composed of more than 66% of well-educated youth.

Subsidiary elections represent an example of massive political ignorance

, affecting both men and women candidates. Today we are facing several political crises leading to political and parliamentary work deformity; that is lack of trust and integrity in selecting parliament members. Unfortunately, some state organizations and citizens contribute to this situation in addition to ignoring the applicable laws that help combat this continuous political corruption that may give way to undeserved parliamentary winnings.  Moreover, when certain members of parliament are elected, based on my parliamentary experience, further elections to certain parliamentary committees is not based on a member’s area of expertise or specialty or education, rather some are selected for alternate gains often in favor of protecting certain Ministers or to pass certain laws and recommendations. This eventually leads to the distortion of the most important authorities including the legislative and executive.  

In conclusion, the experience of past women members of parliament and my experience proves that although we had to overcome many challenges to achieving a seat in parliament and needed to persevere and prove the skeptics wrong, women are more than capable of making a difference in society. We bring a unique voice, a strict sense of professionalism, and an unwaivering sense of commitment and purpose reflected in the work we have accomplished. Next steps forward should include recognition and mitigation of gender bias and establishing a plan that will enable the voice of women to reach parliament in a transparent, informed way.



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