Kuwaiti Women Gain Right to Vote

May 24, 2005

The Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Muslim Women's League welcome the long overdue decision by the Kuwaiti Parliament last week to give Kuwaiti women their right to vote and contest elections for the first time. The all-male body voted to approve the move 35-23, admidst opposition by conservative Muslim members.

Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah said he planned to name a woman minister. Kuwaiti women now join their counterparts in neighboring Qatar, Oman and Bahrain in having the vote. The finalized amendment comes after several years of debate and struggle by Kuwaiti women.

"This is a celebration for democracy even though it is 45 years late," said Jassim al-Gitami, head of the Kuwaiti Human Rights Association, told reporters. The next parliamentary elections in Kuwait -- the first opportunity for women to run -- will be in 2007.

Legislators who fiercely campaigned against women's suffrage argued that Islamic teachings bar women from participating in political life. In reality, the Quran mandates equal rights and equal participation of men and women in public life.

"We hope that this is the beginning of a trend that will be followed by the few remaining Muslim countries who continue to deny women the right to full participation in society," said Laila Al-Marayati, spokesperson for the Muslim Women's League.

During the time of Prophet Muhammad, women actively participated in the equivalent of voting, known as baya (which was a way of endorsing political leadership).

It is ironic and troubling, then, that those forces who opposed the measure projected themselves as defending Islamic values and teachings. However, the outvoted minority did manage to pass an addendum to the bill which created a condition that women's political rights ought to be practiced within the "boundaries of Sharia" (Islamic law). According to the Kuwait News Agency, the law states that "a Kuwaiti woman, voting and running for political office, should do so while fully adhering to the dictates of Islamic Sharia." Exploiting Sharia to maintain a status quo that deprives women of their God-given rights is a violation of Quranic principles. Such manipulations on Islamic grounds fail once more to serve the image of Islam or its understanding by people around the world.

"We congratulate the Muslim men and women of Kuwait for such an achievement," said Senior Advisor Dr. Maher Hathout. "We support the minority's right to express its opinion, but they should not rely on a false sense of Islamic legitimacy in their goal to maintain the status quo or advance their personal agendas."

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