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Reluctant Feminists? Islamist MP s and the Representation of Women in Kuwait after 2005

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Drawing on theories of representation in general, and “the politics of presence” perspective in particular, this article explores whether and how female parliamentarians in Kuwait influenced male MP s to support female civil and economic rights after women’s enfranchisement in 2005.
A review of parliamentary documents between 2006 and 2016 reveals that a sharp rise in the number of law proposals occurred in the parliamentary Family and Woman Affairs Committee (FWAC) after the four first-ever female legislators were elected in 2009. Roughly half of all issues regarding women’s interests – 45 per cent – over the past decade were raised during the two years when women were present in the Kuwaiti parliament.
In explaining this fact, the paper argues that male Islamist MP s acted as reluctant feminists and diligent opportunists by responding to new opportunities and expectations created by the presence of female MP s. Islamist MP s reformulated demands pertaining to poverty alleviation and social assistance by focusing on women as mothers, widows, and caregivers. They emphasized gender relations in ways where Kuwaiti women, particularly those married to non-Kuwaitis and stateless bidun, were seen as capacitated citizens. Kuwaiti women, some Islamist MP s argued, should be able to act as legal guardians (kafīl) of their husbands and children, be brokers of material welfare services such as free education and health services, and get access to public housing. After the exit of female MP s from parliament in 2011, Islamist MP s stopped arguing along these lines, and their demands on behalf of women through the FWAC dropped sharply.1

Affiliations: 1: Østfold University College


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