The struggle for women's suffrage
History of women's suffrage
suffrage in the United States
K U W A I T
The Struggle for Women’s Suffrage
The member of the National Assembly who
oppose granting women suffrage often cite religious and social reasons
for their opposition. The BBC Radio World Service quoted Mr. Ahmad Baqer,
a member of the National Assembly who opposed the bill, as saying, “the
men take the responsibility for politics, and the women take the responsibility
for the family.” Another lawmaker who rejected the bill, Saadoun al-Otaibi,
was quoted in a New York Times article, published on 20 December 1999,
as saying: “How would you have expected me to feel if a candidate called
to me, ‘I need to speak with your wife and daughter.’”
On Tuesday, 1 February 2000,the first day of the annual voter registration period, hundreds of women marched to the registration centers and demanded to be registered as voters. They were not allowed to register and subsequently filed several suits against the government. The plaintiffs urged the court to overturn the decision denying them the right to register to vote and to find Article 1 of Law No. 35/1962 of the Election Law, which denies women this right, in violation of the Constitution of Kuwait. All of the lawsuits were dismissed by the Administrative and Constitutional courts on procedural grounds.
The denial of women’s political rights violates several articles of the Kuwaiti Constitution. 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 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 dfignity and public rights and duties before the law.” Although Kuwait has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Government made reservations to both treaties noting that the treaties are inconsistent with Article 1 of its voting law, which denies women’s suffrage. In March 2000, the United Nations Human Rights Committee urged the Kuwaiti Government to “take all the necessary steps to ensure to women the right to vote and to be elected on equal footing with men, in accordance with articles 25 and 26 of the covenant.
The suffrage movement in Kuwait has a long history. In 1971, following a conference on women’s issues in Kuwait, a bill was submitted to the National Assembly granting full political rights for women. The bill was only supported by 12 of the 60 member of the Assembly. Subsequent legislative initiatives for women’s suffrage were introduced in 1981, 1986, 1992, and 1996 but political support has never been strong enough. In 1994, the Women’s Issues Network (WIN), a coordinating committee for 22 non-governmental organizations, launched a Blue Ribbon Campaign in support of women’s rights to vote and to stand for elected office. The campaign aims to raise public awareness about the exclusion of women in Kuwait from political participation. On 28 October 2000, a public demonstration was held in front of the National Assembly at the commencement of its fourth session, calling for the amendment of the Election Law to give women the right to vote.
Although in November 1999 the National Assembly again denied women suffrage, the 32-30 vote was the closest in Kuwait’s 37-year parliamentary history. Despite the vehemence of the opposition, the movement for women’s suffrage is gaining support and Kuwait women are hopeful that they will soon win their long-awaited political rights. In October 2000, the National Assembly reconvened. In considering the bill that was introduced in July, its members will once again have a historic opportunity to change the law so that no country in the world denies only women the right to vote.