Voting rights for Kuwaiti women Print E-mail
Dear Ones,
As we celebrate the victory of our Kuwaiti sisters, read on for some "timely" history in the context of the "timeless" and eternal global war against women - Lynette
The News International - Pakistan

Wednesday May 18, 2005---- Rabi-us-Sani 09, 1426 A.H.

Monday's approval by Kuwait's parliament of a law allowing women to vote and run in elections came 112 years after the women of pioneering New Zealand achieved female suffrage, and 40 years after Afghan women got the right. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the first woman in the world to reach that position, became prime minister of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) as far back as 1959. But the Kuwaiti development, though late in coming, is a victory for the women of the Gulf/Middle East region; indeed, for women all over the Third World.

The women of Qatar, Bahrain and Oman already have this right, and the Kuwaiti women's success brings the possibility of their sisters in the United Arab Emirates, otherwise the most liberal country in the Gulf, that much closer. The continued refusal of Saudi Arabia, the only place in the world female driving is banned, to give political rights to women becomes still more glaring and indefensible. (The UAE is now the sole country bordering Saudi Arabia where women are deprived of voting rights.) The decision of the Kuwaiti parliament will increase pressure on the Saudi government to initiate measures to give these rights to its female citizens. Here, it's noteworthy that, with the United States on a campaign for "democracy" in the Middle East, the Kuwaiti vote preceded the expected visit to Washington next month by Prime Minister Sabah al Ahmad al Sabah.

However, this victory is only a first big success for Kuwaiti women. Kuwait, like almost all Middle Eastern countries, is a conservative society. In Arab counties where women already have the voting right, the female population continues to face widespread discrimination, particularly in the legal field, such as with regard to divorce and ownership of property. In Egypt, for example, a woman may not even travel abroad without her husband's permission.

In Pakistan, women received voting rights in 1947. But the victimisation oppression and violence they continue to face are a painful reminder that political equality on the statute books does not translate into social equality. The jubilant Kuwaiti women would do well to remember this.