Safa Al Hashem will be the sole woman in Kuwait’s parliament as it struggles to diversify.
In its weekend election, the tiny oil-rich nation of Kuwait had the opportunity to substantially boost the share of women in its parliament. And like Americans earlier this month, its voters failed to deliver those big gains.
Fifteen women ran for the 50 open seats in Kuwait’s 65-member parliament, but only one won: Safa Al Hashem, whose reelection keeps her as the only woman in the legislative body. Her status as Kuwait’s sole female MP illustrates the legislative body’s struggle to diversity a decade after the nation first allowed women to seek office.
The victory for Al Hashem, a 52-year-old liberal politician, marked her third parliamentary victory—a record among the limited ranks of women who have served Kuwait as MPs. She was elected this weekend after resigning during her last term. She joined other MPs in giving up her seat to object to parliament’s refusal to question Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Mubarak Al Sabah about allegations of corruption. She previously won election in 2012 and 2013.
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Al Hashem is a businesswoman who founded the Kuwaiti consulting firm Advantage Consulting. Upon winning, Al Hashem, who has an MBA from Pennsylvania State University and a postgraduate diploma from Harvard Business School, thanked her 331,000 Twitter followers “from the bottom of [her] heart.”
Women make up more than half of the labor force in Kuwait, and are highly educated, according to the World Economic Forum. Yet when it comes to female representation in parliament, the country has a poor record compared to others.
“There’s a stigma against women participating in public life because they haven’t really done it that much,” Courtney Freer, a researcher at the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics, told Fortune. She adds that since parliament is “a boys club,” it is “difficult for newcomers to come in.”
Kuwaiti women’s representation in parliament has actually fluctuated quite a bit since they first were able to participate. Women held four parliamentary seats in 2009, before dropping to three in 2012, and one in 2013. Because of that, Freer says, it’s difficult to know what the future holds in terms of female participation.
Cross posted from Fortune: http://fortune.com/2016/11/28/kuwait-parliament-election-women/