Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

The evolution of women’s legal rights in Kuwait

kuwait-women-mpsIn a landmark vote on May 16, 2005, Kuwait’s Parliament granted women full suffrage, finally enabling them to vote and run for election to Parliament. Indisputably a significant turning point in Kuwait’s democratic history, the vote was also a milestone for women’s rights in the country. Despite the political gains, Kuwaiti women still lag behind their male counterparts in legal status. A Kuwaiti woman married to a non-Kuwaiti cannot pass citizenship to her children, although Kuwait men married to non- Kuwaitis can. Upon divorce, married Kuwaiti women lose their claim to homes purchased through the government housing program, even if they made payments on the loan and according to the 1984 Personal Status Law, a divorced women loses custody of her children if she decides to remarry.

Work place discrimination Kuwaiti women still also face discrimination in the work force. Though they comprised 46.7 percent of the work force in 2013, Kuwaiti women still hold fewer managerial positions than men and face restrictions in job options though increasingly they compete with their male counterparts in the fields of education, business and even diplomacy. At the government level, Kuwaiti women continue to battle for legal equality. In 2012 the Administrative Court canceled a ministerial decree that prohibited women from applying for entry-level positions at the Ministry of Justice. In 2013, the Supreme Judiciary Council issued a ruling that would allow women to serve as prosecutors and judges, following separate lawsuits filed by about six young female Kuwaiti law school graduates who argued the restriction was unconstitutional. Still no woman has as yet been accepted as legal researchers with the Justice Ministry. While the reasons behind this may be bureaucratic, to Ghada Al Ghanim, a board member of the Women’s Cultural and Social Society and founding member of Sout Al Kuwait, certain conservative segments of the Parliament and perhaps of the judiciary also have a role to play.

The power of the vote According to Al Ghanim, the electoral victory of four Kuwaiti women in the 2009 polls was an important achievement. It led to legislative changes and to a greater focus on women’s issues. For example, the 2009 Constitutional Court ruled to strike down article 15 of the Passport Law that required a married woman to secure her husband’s consent in order to obtain a passport. This would not have been possible without the presence of women in Parliament, Al Ghanim said. “The law was utter nonsense. It changed because of the weight of women’s voice that was felt in Parliament,” she explained. During the 2009 parliament’s term, the government also reformed its housing loan program so as to allow unmarried women to qualify for loans. Today, however, the current Parliament does not have a single female representative. With regards to international conventions, Kuwait is party to both the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), but with reservations that place national law above key treaty articles. In 2005, Kuwait withdrew its reservation to the CEDAW article on equal political rights for women. The reservations on articles relating to personal status and nationality remain in effect. But work towards improving the legal status of women in the country goes on. “We have young and open minded lawyers and graduates who are working to bring improvement. And Kuwaiti women are also more politically active since they can vote,” Al Ghanim maintains. Opposition from conservative segments of the parliament, the judiciary and the society can be overcome. A number of the current regulations are against the constitution itself, Al Ghanim points out, “and with the Parliament’s Women’s Affairs Committee working with civil society, change is hopeful.”

By Batul K Sadliwala

Pin It
This article was published on 14/08/2014