Women's Voting Rights in Kuwait

Kuwait is a small and oil-rich state where women are said to be among the most emancipated in the Gulf region, which is incredibly conservative. Women in Kuwait can travel, drive, and work without their fathers' or husbands' consent and they even hold some senior government positions.

But women in Kuwait have not yet gained the one right that most of them desire: the right to vote. Although the ruler of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber al-Sabah, issued a royal decree in June of 1999 that stated women should be allowed to vote and run for office in the next election, a measure to put his will into law was defeated, 32 to 30, by legislators in November of 2000 (Christian Science Monitor).

The decision to not allow women to vote violates Kuwait's constitution, which states "All people are equal in human dignity and in public rights and duties before the law" (Kuwait Constitution, Article 29). But an election law established the same year as the constitution (1962) limits political rights to males over the age of twenty-one. Court cases brought against Kuwait in violation of the Constitution have been turned down. One such case was brought by Adnan al-Isa, who sued the elections department for failing to register the names of women, including his wife, on electoral lists (BBC News Online).

At the crux of the problem is Islamic thought. The Koran states "men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient" (Koran, 4:34). It is also apparently in the sayings of the Prophet that people will not succeed if they allow women to be their commanders, which justifies not letting women run for office.

When compared to a place such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwaiti women have it good. In Saudi Arabia, no one has the right to vote and women still don't have the right to drive a car (Muslim Women's League). But this does not appease the Kuwaiti women. "If you're a woman, you can't even open a bank account for yourself, even if you're divorced" (Christian Science Monitor), says Rola Dashti, a Kuwaiti economist.

Women in other Arab countries have enjoyed voting rights for decades: Syria and Lebanon since 1953 and 1952, respectively, Yemen since 1967, and Jordan since 1974. Kuwait is the only country that denies the right to vote specifically to women. In the United Arab Emirates, neither men nor women have the right to vote or stand for election (Women's Suffrage).

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