GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Institutional Processes and Gender Issues: The WCSS as an Agent of Change in Kuwaiti Politics
Paper Proposal Text :
The Women\'s Cultural and Social Society was set up in 1963 to “encourage their [women’s] participation in community activities and increase their awareness of their rights.” Over the course of forty years, the WCSS would play a pivotal role in campaigning for women’s political participation in Kuwait, with members suing the Minister of Interior in 2000 for violating the constitutional right of Kuwaiti women to participate politically. Allied since its inception with the Pan-Arab Nationalist oppositional movement, and famous for never having had a member of the ruling elite in its leadership, the WCSS naturally faced some attempts from the establishment to derail its momentum. There were several attempts to create and support rival women associations and NGOs, such as the Volunteer Women’s Association for Community Services that was set up in 1991and headed by the wife of the Crown Prince at the time Sheikha Latifa al Sabah. However, the WCSS’s ability to maintain its civil society coalition with the two main bodies that were a vehicle for the liberal oppositional movement, The Kuwait Democratic Forum and Kuwait’s Graduate Society, ensured that it remained an important partner as the female arm of the movement. In the vacuum created through the absence of political parties, many civil society institutions such as the WCSS and others became important lobbying groups associated with one political group or another. For example the Bayadir al Salam association is regarded as the female arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, and does most of the female recruitment and political mobilisation for the organisation through its very successful community activities.

Following the decision to grant women full suffrage in 2005, the past decade witnessed an increase in the WCSS’s power to influence votes and rally support behind the causes it chooses to highlight. This was especially true in the two voting districts (Districts 2 and 3) where WCSS board members, who are mainly from the liberal merchant elite, have kinship based voter relationships. The extent of their influence has been made clear by the number of National Assembly candidates and MPs who solicit their support, even those from opposing ideological camps, and their track record of backing a winning candidate in the Second District; arguably because the WCSS through its members and their extended network plays an instrumental role in guaranteeing that success. As the oppositional movement became increasingly tribal, and political Islam’s influence grew in National Assembly, the accusation that the WCSS was an ivory tower refuge of “Ladies who lunched”, began to resurface as it had done in the seventies. Infighting among the National Democratic Alliance and the older Kuwait Democratic Forum had a knock on effect on the WCSS and split its membership among the two groups. Lately the organisation has also had trouble retaining younger board members or new volunteers, who are often put off by the controlling attitude of the leadership, some of which have been members since the WCSS’s inception.

Using the WCSS as a case study, this paper would examine how civil society organisations shape and are shaped by the political processes around them in Kuwait, and by extension, the implications that this gender-centric experience could mean for the future political engagement of women in the GCC.