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Why Aren’t They Winning? Women National Assembly Candidates in Kuwait

Fri, August 30, 2:00 to 3:30pm, Marriott, Thurgood Marshall West

Abstract

Democratization suggests that when women gain the right to vote and run for office, the political process becomes more inclusive and sees an increase in descriptive representation over time. However, political science scholars have long since discovered that legislative gender parity is not so easily achieved. Much like other states, Kuwait has struggled to increase the representation of women in its national parliament, The National Assembly, even in the face of increased political participation from women. Since gaining the right to vote and run for office in 2005, women in Kuwait have never held more than 4 of the 50 seats in the National Assembly, or 8% of the seats. Even though on average 19% of all candidates running are women and 55% of all eligible voters are women there has been a decline in the number of women elected to the parliament of 75% in the last ten years. So why are voters not voting for women candidates in Kuwait, and in particular, why are women voters not voting for women candidates? I argue that this discrepancy is due to women candidates being viewed as ineffective political leaders. Specifically, women voters, regardless of their ideological position, see women candidates as not possessing the traits of a successful representative. I postulate that this is in part due to their highly-gendered views related to politicians and leaders. Using public opinion survey data and interviews with Kuwaitis, I assess how women voters feel about women candidates and the factors they consider when choosing to vote for candidates. I find that Kuwaiti women have positive feelings when asked about women candidates and voting for women candidates in the abstract; however, this is in tension with their attitudes about the role of women in society, leadership, and politics. The product of this tension is that the more positively they feel about masculine traits in politics and leadership the less likely they are to vote for women candidates, regardless of affiliation or ideology. Furthermore, I conclude that the proto-party infrastructure has not embraced women as candidates and continues to marginalize them reinforcing the outsider status of women candidates.

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