Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

kuwait28606_wideweb__470x311,0 The pages of history reveal the anguish, sweat and tears that women throughout the ages have suffered in winning suffrage rights from often male-dominated societies. Hard-fought, and eventually won, battles have been waged from the sunny coastlines of California all the way to the villages of France and back again. And, despite our extremely advanced technological age that has morphed the depths of our world into the palms of our hands, many women across the globe are still fighting for their rights.

One such country, where women have seen great progress in the area of women’s suffrage rights, is the tiny gulf State of Kuwait. Kuwaiti women won the right to vote and participate in parliamentary elections way back in 2005. However, it would take another 4 years for Kuwaiti women to circumvent political roadblocks intentionally put in their path and assert their right to participate in the inner workings of government. In 2009, Kuwaiti women cheered from their balconies and congregated in the streets to congratulate one another over no less than four Kuwaiti women being voted into the Kuwaiti parliament.

However, since that one sweet victory, women’s suffrage in Kuwait has come to a screeching halt. This past Monday, Kuwaiti women seized the opportunity of International Women’s Day to lodge a public complaint. The primary area of contention is the fact that Kuwaiti women are not allowed to become judges. And most are prevented from being promoted to higher positions in the government. Quite notably only 17 Kuwaiti women hold high-ranking government posts as opposed to 252 positions held by their male counterparts.

At a special symposium held to commemorate International Women’s Day in Kuwait, Kuwaiti women showed up in force to demand answers in an all too public forum. Kuwaiti women, ranging from lawyers to housewives, stood up to allow their voices to be heard. Gender discrimination was on the tip of all of the women’s tongues as the Kuwaiti government was branded too conservative and resistant to change. One speaker, a lawyer named Salwa al-Ajmi, told the symposium, “I have been working as a lawyer for the past 32 years but still I cannot become a judge. It is shameful that the government has accepted and signed international treaties banning discrimination against women and still bars females from becoming judges.”

The symposium also highlighted other areas where Kuwaiti females face gender discrimination and lack basic human rights which should be an embarrassment to a country that, at least on paper, purports to uphold the rights of women within its borders. For example, Kuwaiti women who choose to marry a non-Kuwaiti are legally barred from giving their children or even their husband the Kuwaiti nationality, which comes with countless financial perks and benefits from the government. Contrastingly, Kuwaiti males enjoy full nationality rights regardless of whom they marry. As a result, Kuwaiti women cannot receive a free home from the government or monthly social welfare payments for their children that, once again, Kuwaiti males benefit from.

All hope is not lost as a female member of parliament, MP Rula Dashti, used the symposium as an opportunity to announce her plans to draft a new gender equality bill that she will present at the next session of the Kuwaiti Parliament.  The timing could not be riper for Kuwaiti women to make headway with at least some of the rights they are after, as the Kuwaiti government is trying to amp up its global reputation as a beacon of human rights appreciation.

12-11

The Kuwaiti Quartet

May 28, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

610xggg Political crisis has marred the growth and development of Kuwait for the past few years as political upheaval has been the order of the day. The entire government has resigned no less than five times and the democratically elected parliament has been dissolved thrice in only a matter of years with the most recent dissolution coming just a few months ago. Even before candidates hung up their campaign posters or voters could go to the polls, there was an air of change floating around in Kuwait. Citizens have long tired of the bickering between the Emiri elected cabinet and the members of parliament chosen by the public. There were more ‘grillings’, where MP’s make accusations against another MP, than parliamentary decisions to pull Kuwait out of the current economic crisis it is wallowing in and put it back on track with its’ neighboring Arab rivals.

It has been a mere four years since women were granted suffrage rights and the right to run for parliamentary elections in Kuwait. Female candidates failed to win seats in the past two parliamentary elections. But this past week, history turned one giant page when a total of 4 female candidates won seats in the newly formed Kuwaiti Parliament. A total of 210 candidates, 16 of which were female, vyed for a coveted seat in the 50 member strong Parliament. “Frustration with the past two parliaments pushed voters to seek change. And here it comes in the form of this sweeping victory for women,” Massouma al-Mubarak told reporters following her victory.

Quite notably all four newly elected female MP’s were educated in the USA and hold Doctorates in their specific fields. Massouma Al Mubarak is a political science professor and was Kuwait’s first female Emiri appointed Cabinet minister. Rola Dashti is an economist and activist for women’s rights. She was at the forefront of the battle to win voting rights for Kuwaiti women since it began. Salwa al Jasser is an Education professor and Aseel al Awhadi is a Philosophy professor.

Supporters of the female candidates set off fireworks and feted them in a barrage of wild cheers and congratulatory celebrations rivaling even the poshest of Hollywood after parties.  However, there are several male MP’s who are unhappy with having to share parliament with women. Islamic fundamentalists have made statements to the local media that women do not belong in politics and have insisted that all of the female MP’s wear the Islamic hijab whenever Parliament is in session. Only two out of the four newly elected females MP’s observe the Islamic headscarf.

It remains to be seen if the Kuwaiti Quartet will be able to change the political scene in Kuwait, which has always operated on a crisis-by-crisis basis. Kuwaiti political analysts expect the power struggle between MP’s in the Parliament to continue regardless of gender. If this week is any indication, the Kuwaiti Quartet is already facing an uphill battle in their bid to makeover Kuwaiti politics. MP Massouma Al Mubarak was accused of trying to push through more female politicians into the Cabinet and the Kuwait Quartet were also accused of trying to form their own bloc to stand united against the male members of Parliament.

The State of Kuwait is often referred to as a ‘half democracy’ since only the Emir controls the Cabinet while the public chooses Parliamentarians.  Kuwaiti activists have long petitioned for the formation of political parties and for Kuwait to be a true democracy where the public has the right to choose all elected officials.

11-23