Thursday, June 29, 2006

Kuwaiti women go to the polls today

Back in April, Kuwaiti women voted for the first time in a by-election.

At the time, full parliamentary elections weren't scheduled to be held until 2007. So the April vote, while significant, was a baby step.

But five weeks ago, Kuwait's emir dissolved parliament and called early elections. So today Kuwaiti women vote in their first full-fledged election, featuring 28 female candidates.

Even more interesting: because members of the all-male military are banned from voting, 57 percent of registered voters are women.

None of the female candidates are expected to win, but their mere existence is a victory for democracy in a conservative and tribal culture.

It's not all wine and roses, as one female candidate has discovered:

Detractors spread text messages ridiculing her Lebanese accent and Persian ancestry. Gossips whispered that the Bush administration was bankrolling her efforts. Vandals tore down her campaign posters. Islamist hardliners lambasted her for refusing to wear a veil.

"If I put the veil on today, I know I could get 600 or 700 more votes," she said. "But I won't. I respect my religion, and I won't use it as a political tool."

As the barbs grew more ruthless in the final days before the vote, Dashti's family became so concerned that they implored her not to accept food or drinks from strangers for fear that she would be poisoned. Dashti agreed, but only after speaking out against the "psychological terrorism" she considers as great an ill as the violence that has marred elections in other parts of the Middle East.

Changing attitudes can take decades. But it started with one woman filing a lawsuit. And now women are voting, and able to vote for female candidates. Of such things are great changes made.

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