Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Guests Discuss Status of Kuwaiti Women

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Guests Discuss Status of Kuwaiti Women

Article excerpt


On May 22, the Kuwait Information Office hosted a talk by two visiting Kuwaiti scholars and prominent leaders of the women's movement in Kuwait: Dr. Samira Omar and Dr. Roula Dashti.

Dr. Omar stated that the status of women in Kuwaiti society has progressed immensely. Today, the illiteracy rate among women has declined to 9 percent. The contribution of women to the work force has moved in light-years. Ninety percent of women who obtain a college education participate in the work force. The status of women in the political sphere, however, has not paralleled this progress, she said.

Dr. Omar stated that the main obstacle to full participation of women in Kuwait is the lack of the right to vote and be elected to a political post, both of which remain forbidden by law. Despite the fact that Kuwait's 1961 constitution does not discriminate between men and women in the right to vote, it is the electoral law introduced shortly after independence that specifically deprives women of the right to vote.

For the past three decades, this issue has galvanized the women's movement in Kuwait. Women have persisted in exerting pressure on the parliament to pass legislation to amend its electoral law. In 1974, the national assembly of Kuwait rejected a bill allowing women to vote. During the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, women were active participants in the local resistance against the invasion and, in appreciation of their efforts, the emir promised Kuwaiti women the right to vote. However, this proved difficult given the politicized nature of the issue.

Dr. Omar said that Kuwaiti women attempted to publicize their cause by participating in international conferences and engaging in various acts of civil disobedience against the electoral law. They were successful in drawing international attention to their cause. In 1999, the emir issued a decree allowing Kuwaiti women to vote and to run for office. Since the decree was issued when the Kuwaiti parliament was not in session, however, it was rejected by members of parliament. Even so, when a draft bill later was introduced in parliament, it was defeated by two votes.

In April 2000, 23 Kuwaiti women submitted petitions against the minister of interior claiming that refusing to allow them to register to vote is a violation of Kuwait's own constitution. …

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