Kuwait fails to pass women's vote bill

Kuwait's parliament has failed to pass a law giving women the right to vote and stand in municipal elections for the first time.

    Kuwaiti women say they are victims of blatant discrimination

    Of the 60 deputies present for Monday's vote, 29 voted in favour of the bill, while only two voted against.

    However, 29 deputies abstained from voting, which meant the session was declared as lacking a quorum.
    "It's so frustrating," women's rights activist and leading Kuwait Economic Society member Rola al-Dashti told Aljazeera.net. "Nothing is easy for Kuwaiti women."

    She added: "The opposition outsmarted the government. Now there are two different hypotheses. One is that the law has not passed and that's it, while the other says it has to be voted on tomorrow. So, tomorrow will see a big battle in parliament to see whether or not they should vote again."

    This is not the first time the question of women's voting rights has come up before the assembly.

    Conservative opposition

    "Women have been fighting for this since the 1960s," activist Shamayl al-Sharikh said.

    "Back then, they always said women were not ready. Then, in the 1980s, with the rise of Islamists, they said it was against Islam. Then Iraq invaded, and during the occupation, His Excellence the Emir promised that after the war he
    would restore the parliament and grant women rights. That was in 1990. It's now 2005."

    "It's so frustrating. Nothing is easy for Kuwaiti women"

    Rola al-Dashti,
    Kuwaiti women's rights activist

    Opposition to women's suffrage amongst parliamentarians has led to the rejection of several Emiri decrees granting women the vote in general elections, the most recent of which was in 1999.

    Last month, however, a bill allowing women to run in elections for the Municipal Council passed its first reading. This is the bill that failed to get through today.

    Those opposed are often from conservative Islamist or tribal backgrounds. Other MPs fear that while they may support women's rights, their constituents do not.

    Yet proponents say the issue is not about Islamic law, but pure politics.

    "This has nothing to do with religion," al-Sharikh said.

    Emir decision 

    Advocates claim almost every Muslim country in the world apart from Kuwait allows women voting rights of some kind, with several major Muslim nations having female political leaders.

    Kuwait's Islamic Affairs Ministry has also ruled that in the event of a dispute on the issue, the final word should rest with the Emir, Shaikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who is in favour of women voting.

    Kuwait's Emir Shaikh Jaber is in
    favour of women's voting right

    Women's rights activists are also furious that Monday's debate was tied to a demand from conservatives for a pay rise for public employees and the cancelling of outstanding utilities debts.

    "It's blackmail," al-Dashti said. "They want the government to trade women's political rights in return for them dropping this very expensive wage bill."

    The Kuwaiti cabinet estimates the cost of passing the salary raise and writing off the utilities debts as over $1 billion a year.

    Currently, only adult male Kuwaiti citizens are eligible to vote in general elections. This means only around 15% of the population have balloting rights for the 50-seat National Assembly, whose MPs are supplemented by 15 cabinet members.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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