After 20 years of struggle for the right to political participation, Kuwaiti women have finally been granted the right to vote and stand for election. On 16 May, by a vote of 35-23, with one abstention, the Kuwaiti Parliament amended the election law to allow Kuwaiti women to vote and run for office in local and parliamentary elections. Members of the Parliament opposed to granting women suffrage had often cited religious and social reasons for their opposition. This fundamentalist faction succeeded in including a requirement in the new law that specifically calls for women voters and women political candidates to abide by Islamic law. The implications of such a requirement are not yet clear. The bill was passed too late to enable women to be able to participate in council elections in June so the first time Kuwaiti women will be able exercise their new rights is likely to be in the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2007. (Photo: Reuters / Stephanie McGee / Archive Photos)
The campaign for women’s suffrage in Kuwait had accelerated over the past six years. On 16 May 1999, the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, issued a decree granting women full political rights to vote and to stand for office. This decree was overturned by a two-thirds vote of Parliament on 23 November 1999. Several attempts to amend the electoral law in Kuwait were subsequently introduced into parliament and defeated. Women also attempted to register to vote and a number of lawsuits were filed against the government for refusing to allow women to register, but the courts dismissed all the cases. Until recently, when Saudi Arabia gave the vote to men only, Kuwait was the last country in the world where only men could vote.
The denial of women’s political rights violated several articles of the Constitution of Kuwait. Article 6 provides that “the system of government in Kuwait shall be democratic, under which sovereignty resides in the people, the source of all powers.” Article 7 of the Constitution provides that “justice, liberty and equality shall be the pillars of society.” The guarantees of democracy and equality are also set forth in Article 8, which provides that the state shall ensure “equal opportunities for citizens,” and Article 29, which provides that “all people are equal in human dignity and public rights and duties before the law.” The Women’s Action Network of Equality Now has been campaigning in support of Kuwaiti efforts to win suffrage for women since 2001.
Please write to the Emir of Kuwait, acknowledging his support for women’s political rights and welcoming the decision of the Kuwaiti Parliament to grant women the right to vote and stand for election. Please also write to the Minister of the Interior, and in addition to welcoming the amendment of the election law, ask for reassurance that the provision in the new law requiring women to abide by Islamic law will not be used as a way of eroding women’s full right to vote and stand for office. Letters should be addressed to:
HH Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah
Diwan of Highness Emir
P.O. Box 799
Fax: +965 539 3069
HE Sheikh Nawas Al-Ahamad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah
Minister of the Interior and Deputy Prime Minister
P.O. Box 12500, Shamiya
71655 Kuwait City
Fax: +965 243 6570