Still Kuwaiting

In the August/September 1999 issue of Ms., we reported that Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, the emir of Kuwait, had moved to give women the right to vote and run for political office, pending the approval of the Kuwaiti National Assembly. But women have yet to see the fruits of the leader’s promise. In November, the all-male Assembly rejected the edict. Some members said they voted against the measure to protest the emir’s issuing such a controversial statement while the Assembly was not in session. However, when given the chance to vote on the issue in the form of a standard piece of legislation the following week, the Assembly once again denied women their political rights. The new excuse? Fundamentalist Sunni Muslim lawmakers cited religious beliefs prohibiting women and men from mixing publicly, while the more moderate Shiite Muslim members said they turned their backs on women because of pressure from their constituents.

Still, the legislation was only two votes short of the simple majority needed to pass. Hemood Al-Nusf, head of a prominent women’s organization in Kuwait, says the close vote has given activists hope that the tide will turn their way, maybe even in time for the 2003 elections. Women’s groups are continuing to pressure Assembly members to bring the issue up for another vote. Kuwait is still the only Persian Gulf country with an elected legislative body, and activists had hoped that it would take the further step of extending voting rights to women. “This is not women’s rights,” Al-Nusf declares. “This is civil rights.”

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