Kuwait: Women in region are facing legal forms of discrimination

KUWAIT CITY, March 24: The Women’s Cultural and Social Society, in coordination with the Freedom House, organized the Second Gulf Regional Forum on Women’s Rights and Family Law in honor of the International Women’s Day on Tuesday. The event was held under the patronage of Faisal Mohammad Al-Hajji Bukhadhour, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs. Several prominent personalities spoke on women’s current status in the region.

“In 2005, women in Kuwait received the same political rights as men, which enabled them to vote and run for office in the parliamentary elections the following year. Women in Kuwait have experienced the greatest gains of any Gulf country in terms of their economic participation,” stated Sheikha H. Al-Nisf, President of the Women’s Cultural and Social Society.

“As the societies of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) undertake the difficult process of enacting social and political change, the unequal status of women stands out as a particularly formidable obstacle. “However, today we stand out in Kuwait for the installment of a larger project encompassing the entire MENA region, which will be completed in November 2009. “Although the study indicates that a substantial deficit in women’s rights persists in every country of the Gulf region and is reflected in practically every facet of their societies, its findings also include the notable progress achieved over the last five years, particularly in terms of economic and political rights,” she added.
Robert Herman, Director of Programs in Freedom House also spoke about women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region.

“Regardless of constitutional guarantees, women throughout the region face legal forms of discrimination that are systematic and pervade every aspect of life,” stated Herman. “Freedom House translates the values of freedom into a strong tangible impact by combining analysis, advocacy and action. Freedom House has forged an innovative model to promote the expansion of democracy and human rights around the world,” he added. Mariam Al-Roweie, President of Bahrain Women’s Union said, “We are here today to highlight the position and role of women constitutionally and how such is practiced on ground. “In order to stop any aggression against women we need to implement in practice all the international agreements and resolutions that advocate women’s rights,” stated Al-Roweie.

“Today and by sharing the experiences of women from different Arab countries we will take the first step in eliminating all kinds of discriminations that remain against women and to enforce with all its articles without any reservation the Convention on the Elimination of all Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW),” she added.
The Gulf region, and the Middle East as a whole, is not the only region of the world where women experience inequality. In Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and North America, women continue to face discrimination and significant barriers to the full realization of their rights. It is in the Gulf, however, that the gap between the rights of men and those of women has been most clear and substantial, she said.

“The case of Kuwait, however, stands out positive in some manners and has become as an example to many Arab countries. In the 2006 and 2008 municipal and national elections, Kuwaiti women voted and ran as candidates,” she added.
“This has provided women with the unprecedented potential to directly influence Kuwaiti society, especially because the elected National Assembly has the power to overturn decrees issued by the Amir. The government has also integrated women into the national decision-making process by assigning ministerial portfolios to three women and appointing two others to the Municipal Council, which controls the administration of public services.
“Despite these significant developments, Kuwaiti women still face discrimination in many areas of life. They remain prohibited from serving as judges and joining the military, have unequal marital rights, and are not allowed to pass their nationality on to their children and foreign-born husbands.

“They also lack equal rights in laws regulating social security, pensions, and inheritance. Provisions regarding inheritance, however, are mandated in the Holy Quran and take into consideration that men, legally and socially, bear the burden of fiscal responsibility for all female family members. As a result there is little, if any, political or popular will to change this practice.
“Advocacy for women’s rights in Kuwait has been strong and visible in recent years, particularly with respect to political participation. Nonetheless, activists today face new challenges: female election turnout has been relatively low, and no female candidates have been elected to the parliament.
“Furthermore, the amended election law requires all voters and candidates, regardless of their gender or religion, to adhere to the principles and rules of Sharia (Islamic law).”

By Rena Sadeghi
Arab Times Staff

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