Kuwait: Victories for women's rights

BBC & Jurist

Kuwaiti women will be able to obtain their own passport without the consent of their husbands, following a ruling by the country's constitutional court. While The Kuwaiti Constitutional Court [official website, in Arabic] ruled that female lawmakers are not required to wear the hijab, or traditional Muslim headscarf.

Kuwaiti women win passport rights

The court, whose decisions are final, said the previous requirement was in violation of guarantees of freedom and gender equality in the constitution.

The decision came about when a woman complained her husband had prevented her from leaving the country.

The country's first female MPs were elected in May 2009.

The article abolished by the court dated back to Kuwait's 1962 passport law which required a husband's signature on a woman's passport application.

Aseel al-Awadhi, one of the new MPs, welcomed the passport law ruling as a "victory for constitutional principles that puts an end to this injustice against Kuwaiti women".

Government housing

It is the latest gain for women in the oil-rich Gulf state which has made a number of strides towards gender equity in recent years.

The presence of female MPs followed the granting of equal political rights in 2005.

Women voted for the first time in 2006 - albeit in segregated polling booths - in a by-election where they made up 60% of eligible voters.

Kuwaiti women enjoy more freedoms than in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, where there is strict gender segregation and women are not allowed to drive cars.

Women activists welcomed the passport ruling but say they still need equal access to government housing and the right to pass citizenship to their children.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/10/21 10:07:00 GMT

Kuwait constitutional court rules women lawmakers not required to wear headscarf

The ruling was in response to a petition brought by four voters seeking to invalidate the election of two of the four women who became the first female members [BBC report] of the Kuwaiti National Assembly in June because they refuse to wear the hijab. The petitioners claimed [AFP report] that women who choose not to wear hijab should be excluded from the legislature because they are in violation of a clause in the 2005 electoral law [JURIST report], which gave women the full right to vote and run for parliament, but stipulates that women voters and candidates must comply with Islamic Sharia law. The court held [AP report] that the clause was vague and failed to specify to what regulations women must adhere. It also stressed the primacy of the 1962 Constitution [text] and the guarantees of personal freedoms it includes.

In another landmark ruling on women's rights, the Constitutional Court overturned [JURIST report] an article of the Personal Status Law that required a woman to obtain approval from her husband, parents, or guardian to apply for a passport. The court found that the law was also in conflict with the guarantees of personal freedom and gender equality inherent in the constitution.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Megan McKee at 1:02 PM ET