Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Kuwaiti women go to the polls

In a local by-election today, women in Kuwait were able to vote for the first time today, having been granted the right to do so in 2005.* As the BBC reports, there were women standing for office as well, two of eight candidates running:
Kuwait's first women candidates are 32-year-old Jenan Boushehri, a chemical engineer at the Kuwait Municipality, and 48-year-old Khalida Khader, a US-educated physician and a mother of eight.
This has already been a landmark year for women in political life worldwide, and this is another excellent example.

This details bothers me, though:
...[W]omen were required to show their faces to judges supervising the elections for the purposes of identification.

There are reports of at least one woman refusing to remove her Islamic veil and leaving the polling station without voting.
I am not at all comfortable with religious observance, one that just happens to apply to women alone, being used to disenfranchise them.

Still, this is a proud day for the feminists from Kuwait and elsewhere who lobbied for the change in the law for so many years. The article linked above is slightly out of date, but take a look at the history here:
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.
I've said it before in this forum and others, but I love to celebrate our feminist successes. It seems all the sweeter when years of diligent effort result in social changes like this. Perhaps I am an idealist, but I believe that victories like this are not only good for women, they are good for the countries in which they occur, not to mention the rest of the world.

Back at BBC News, Dr. Khader said it best:
"I am so pleased that I have become one of the first Kuwaiti women candidates to run in elections," Dr Khader said in an interview with AFP news agency.

"I have broken the ice and hope this will benefit the cause of women."
I hope so, too. Best of luck to both you and Ms. Boushehri, and congratulations.

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