Kuwait grants women political rights

The New York Times reported yesterday that Kuwait, at long last, has granted full political rights to its women citizens. Better late than never, eh? An interesting irony that during Operation Desert Storm women had the vote (for what it was worth, which was admittedly very little) in Iraq but not Kuwait…

Kuwait Grants Political Rights to Its Women
By Hassan M. Fattah
The New York Times

Tuesday 17 May 2005

Cairo – Kuwait’s Parliament granted full political rights to women on Monday, making way for them to vote and run for office in parliamentary and local elections for the first time in the country’s history. The surprise amendment to Kuwait’s election law ends a decades-long struggle by women’s rights campaigners for full suffrage, and promises to redefine the city-state’s political landscape.

“It has been 20 years of work, but at last we got our rights,” said Lulua al-Mulla, general secretary of Kuwait’s Social Cultural Women’s Society, a women’s advocacy group. “It is about time.”

Parliament met Monday to discuss legislation introduced two weeks ago allowing women to run in city council elections. But in a surprise move, members of the cabinet opened the session by proposing a complete amendment of the country’s election law, which had permitted only men to take part in the country’s powerful Parliament.

The government also invoked a rarely used “order for urgency” to push through the legislation in one session, despite heated debate by Islamist members.

By Monday evening, legislators had passed an amendment that removes the word “men” from Article 1 of the elections law, with 35 voting in favor and 23 against. But Islamist legislators, apparently trying to appease their conservative voting base, included a requirement that “females abide by Islamic law.” The implications of that clause were not immediately clear, though women’s advocates were saying it might just mean separate polling places for men and women.

The State Department spokesman, Richard A. Boucher, welcomed the new legislation, calling it “an important step forward for the women of Kuwait and for the nation as a whole.”

The vote climaxed an extraordinary turn of events, just two weeks after the Parliament had thwarted a measure allowing women to take part in city council elections.

The prime minister, Sheik Sabah al-Jaber al-Sabah, a member of Kuwait’s ruling family, has been under growing pressure to allow women’s suffrage and is believed to have forced the measure through ahead of a planned trip to Washington. He is widely expected to appoint a woman as minister of health in coming weeks.

Although women can now run in all elections, the legislation was passed too late for them to run in the council elections next month. The soonest they will be able to run in any election is 2007, when parliamentary elections are scheduled.