Former Kuwaiti Parliamentarian Discuss Women’s Rights and Democracy

On September 4, 2013 Florida International University and the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) were honored to host guest speaker Dr. Salwa Al-Jassar. Part of the Ruth K. and Shepard Broad Distinguished Lecture Series, Dr. Al-Jassar presented a moving lecture about the role of Kuwaiti women in politics and the process of democratization in the countries of the Persian Gulf.

Among the first women elected to the Kuwaiti Parliament in 2009—when women were first permitted to run for political office—Dr. Al-Jassar has become a voice for the women of her homeland. Thanks to her groundbreaking efforts, Kuwaiti women today are politically engaged and changing the face of Kuwaiti society. In May 2005, Kuwaiti women were given the right to vote for the first time. This was a watershed moment for the Middle Eastern country, which set the stage for emerging and influential women such as Dr. Al-Jassar. In that same year, she founded the Women Empowerment Center, which advanced the right of women to run for political office.

During her tenure in parliament, Dr. Al-Jassar was the Chairman of the Educational Committee and the Committee for Protection of the Country’s Budget. But in a country where men dominate the political system, Dr. Al-Jassar faced her share of adversity. “Many times, during voting sessions, the men in parliament would change their votes if they found that I had voted the same way as they did on any given issue,” said Dr. Al-Jassar. Other times, the media mirrored the disapproving actions of these men in parliament, by purposely isolating her on various issues.

Despite these ever-present challenges, Dr. Al-Jassar persevered. She became the Vice Chairman of the Kuwaiti Women’s Committee and the Health and Social Committee. As a leader for women’s rights in the Gulf Region, she has provided leadership training throughout the region. She has received various awards, like Dubai’s Distinguished Leaders in the Middle East Award and the Arab Women Leaders Award in 2011.

Today Dr. Al-Jassar is an associate professor in the College of Education at Kuwait University. She continues her work on women’s rights and mentors women who are interested in running for political office. She sees the political empowerment of women in Kuwait as a critical step toward greater democratization in her country. She is also very optimistic about the future of women’s political rights throughout the Persian Gulf. In her words, “we are getting there.”