Kuwait: A big step forward for women in Kuwait

Associated Press
In a major step toward granting women political rights, lawmakers agreed on Tuesday to permit women to vote and compete in local council elections, but the measure requires more legislative action before it would become a law.
The first step was taken on a 26-20 vote for women's participation with three abstentions in a session in which most lawmakers and Cabinet Ministers were present for the vote.
Emir's support

A second reading of the bill and a second vote, expected in two weeks, was required before the bill becomes a law.

Then it would require the Kuwaiti ruler's signature, generally a formality and the emir has made clear in the past he supports women's political rights.

"This is the first step ... I hope women will run in these (municipal) elections, and we hope that the big step will be participation in parliament," said Rola Dashti, a women's rights activist.

Municipal election dates have not been set, however lawmakers have been discussing the scheduling, saying they could be held within six months.

The parliamentary moves are steps toward amending Kuwait's 1962 election law so women can enter politics — a subject of heated debate in the small Gulf emirate. The constitution gives men and women equal rights, but the election law limits the right to vote and run for office to men over 21 who are not in the police or the military. Fundamentalists and conservative tribal leaders fear women will neglect duties of raising children and looking after husbands if they are permitted to vote and run as candidates.

Family breakdown

Political rights, they say, would lead to family breakdowns and children straying from Islamic teachings.

Kuwaiti women have reached high government posts, but extremists don't want them campaigning among men or receiving men voters in their offices.

Earlier this month, the Islamic Affairs Ministry ruled that Kuwait's emir, Sheik Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah, has the last word on granting women equal political rights if Muslim clerics disagree on the issue. Sheik Jaber supports the right for women to vote and run for office.

In 1999, Parliament squashed a women's rights decree Sheik Jaber issued because it was signed when the legislature was not in session. Soon after, fundamentalist and tribal lawmakers narrowly defeated an identical bill tabled by liberals.