Kuwaiti womens' historic victory

KUWAIT: Kuwaiti women achieved another historical milestone Sunday by winning their first ever seats in the oil-rich Gulf state's parliament, with four women elected according to official results.

"It's a victory for Kuwaiti women and a victory for Kuwaiti democracy," said a jubilant Aseel al-Awadhi, one of the four women elected to parliament.

"This is a major leap forward," said the 40-year-old professor of political philosophy at Kuwait University who earned her doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin.

Awadhi placed second in the third district, where Rula Dashti was also elected in seventh place. The top 10 finishers in each of the five electoral districts win seats in the 50-seat parliament.

Massuma al-Mubarak and Salwa al-Jassar, both holders of doctorate degrees from the United States, were also declared winners. Mubarak topped the 10 winners in her district while Jassar came in last place in another district.

Kuwaitis voted on Saturday to elect their second parliament in a year after Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah dissolved the outgoing parliament in March following a standoff between MPs and the government.

Kuwaiti women, who make up 54.3 percent of the 385,000 eligible voters, were running in the elections for only the third time after they were enfranchised in 2005, but no women won seats in the previous two elections.

Sixteen women were among the 210 candidates who ran for the parliament's 50 seats.

"This proves there is nothing impossible. Its a victory for Kuwaitis and their will for change," said Mubarak, a liberal woman activist who become the first Kuwaiti woman minister in 2005.

"I won the trust of three emirs (when she became a minister in three cabinets). Now, I won the trust of the Kuwaiti people," said told AFP as she celebrated her victory along with many of her supporters.

At present, there are two women ministers in the 16-member cabinet.

Mubarak said she will focus on trying to achieve stability in Kuwait, which has been rocked by political turmoil over the past three years.

"I will also work to achieve women civil and social rights after they had achieved their political rights," she added.

In addition to making up more than half of the electorate, women also form more than 44 percent of the Kuwaiti workforce, the largest percentage in the Arab states of the Gulf.

Awadhi, who was forecast to win but not to place so highly, said she will focus on the economy, health, education and legislation that regulate women's social rights.

Hundreds of supporters and well-wishers thronged Awadhi's election headquarters, a large air-conditioned tent in a Kuwait City suburb.

Volunteers and supporters hugged her and sang as state television was updating election results, showing her well-positioned in second place. Jassar, a university professor, called the election a historical moment.

"The victory of women is a historical moment because they won parliamentary seats through elections, not quotas," she said in a statement.

Dashti, who has a doctorate in economics from the US John Hopkins University, is the chairwoman of the Kuwait Economic Society. She had been a leading figure in the struggle of Kuwaiti women to win their political rights.

Final results had yet to be announced in two other electoral districts, but nearly complete returns showed women would not win any seats.