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Only Sharia abiding Kuwaiti women can now vote or run for office

Only Sharia abiding Kuwaiti women can now vote or run for office

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Opinion Women’s Rights Basic Rights

Thursday 3 August 202301:15 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

"إقصاء سياسي للمرأة بغطاء شرعي"... "الالتزام بالشريعة" شرط للتمتع بحق الترشح والانتخاب في الكويت

The female presence withdrew from a session of the Kuwaiti National Assembly that witnessed the passing of Article 16 of the General Election Commission law in its controversial amended form. The amended version requires "adherence to the provisions of the constitution, law, and Islamic Sharia to exercise the right to vote and run", by the majority. It was perceived that the text aims to "exclude women from political participation" and impose further guardianship over them "in the name of religion and Sharia."

The special session held on August 1, 2023, witnessed the second discussion on the draft law for electing members of the National Assembly. The Council had previously approved it in its first discussion on July 27, 2023. Additionally, the session presented the state's financial status and four reports from the Parliamentary Budget and Final Account Committee.

With 62 deputies present and the approval of 53 of them, the Council passed Article 16 of the Election Commission law. The article states in its second paragraph, "exercise for the right to vote and candidacy are subject to adherence to the provisions of the constitution, the law, and Sharia." Only nine members rejected this paragraph and requested its removal. Among those who objected were Dr. Jenan Boushehri, the only female member in the current Kuwaiti parliament, along with Hamad al-Midlij, Marzouq Al-Ghanim, Saad Al-Asfour, Dawood Marafi, Mahalhal Al-Mudhaf, Abdulwahab Al-Issa, Hamad Al-Alian, and Dr. Badr Al Malla.

The Council rejected a request for removal made by MP Marzouq Al-Ghanim, who argued that "adherence to the constitution, law, and Sharia is already stipulated in the constitution." The Council also rejected three removal requests made by MP Jenan Boushehri, who warned of the "danger of including a broad and open-ended provision in the election law," interpreting the amendment as "political manipulation" and a "political game with Sharia and its rules and fatwas."

"A political exclusion of women under a religious cover".. #Kuwait National Assembly passes Article 16 of the election law, including a vague requirement of "adherence to Sharia" to enjoy the right to vote and run for office. Why are women objecting?

It should be noted that the main objective of the amendment is to obligate women to what was referred to as "Sharia regulations" – wearing the hijab and dressing "modestly" – as stated in the initial proposal presented by MP Majed Al-Mutairi and others. However, the joint committee between the parliament's 'Interior and Defense Affairs Committee' and the 'Legislative and Legal Affairs Committee' amended it to be more comprehensive, obligating both genders to "adhere to Sharia".

As a result, calls have emerged for Kuwaiti women to rise up in defense of their constitutional rights and gains against those described as "the birds of darkness" before the session.

"The entire country has been hijacked by religious hardliners"

Many Kuwaiti activists and citizens have expressed their discontent on social media over the passage of the article that they view as an attempt at "politically excluding women under the guise of religion", even calling it a "historical setback" that reinforces "imposing guardianship on women and using religion and Sharia to justify it."

In a video, Professor Nawal al-Rasheed states, "We have been voting for years, so why now? Are we moving forward or backward? The clause they are demanding, does it represent progress or backwardness? It's 1000% backward.. It cannot be progress. So unbelievable.. Kuwait in the '70s and '60s was never like this.. The entire country has been hijacked by religious hardliners and extremists."

Feminist activist Maryam al-Azmi hinted that the decision revolves around "political hypocrisy," saying, "The purpose of women's hijab, niqab, and abaya is to impose male guardianship and political control over society. You think they really care about her veil? For some of them, their daughters and wives don't wear hijab, yet they still vote for it to suppress women living in remote areas far from their influence."

She added, "I'm not surprised except by the foolishness of the poor male citizen who is happy with the decision, thinking that they have disciplined and taught women a lesson, but in reality, he and the women from his environment are the ones suffering from the decision and its consequences, because most of their children (referring to the deputies' sons) are protected and have privileges that prevent anyone from interfering in their affairs or considering them ordinary citizens."

After decades of being a pioneer in women's political rights in the Gulf region, Kuwait is now noticeably regressing. What are the reasons?

As for Kuwaiti media personality, Laila Ahmad, she explained the act of passing this amendment by saying the deputies "lack faith in the urgent issues of Kuwait. They do not want to discuss the reasons behind the country's paralysis and the people's discontent. They distract the people with unimportant matters to protect the corrupt and perpetuate stagnation and general paralysis in government administration, with deputies reconciling with their interests."

She expressed her concern at the popular support for this amendment, stating, "Our society is a factional society, it lacks coordination and organization. The turnout of women today is low, whereas the community's issues and aspirations should be shared jointly by men and women alike.."

She bemoaned the plight of Kuwaiti women, tweeting, "You must understand how low our status is in this country as a people; we enter through the back door of the National Assembly building, wait in a suffocatingly hot hall, then walk under scorching August sun for a long distance until we reach a parliament that is supposed to represent and dignify us, but instead, it has stolen our voice and now disregards our concerns... and that's precisely what happened in today's session."

Kuwaiti academic Shaikha Bin Jasim humorously questioned the intended meaning of the amendment, "Now we want one of the geniuses who agreed to the Sharia compliance condition to define exactly what that means. Should it be a 'dishdasha' (traditional Kuwaiti male dress) to the ankles? Should men grow their beards? Shave their mustaches? Should women wear a head abaya? Are perfumes allowed in parliament?" She also speculated that "this law will likely not pass, and even if it does, the Constitutional Court will nullify this clause, as it happened in 2009."

Shaikha al-Bahawed, another Kuwaiti writer, concurred, saying, "In reality, this clause will likely have little impact, similar to the one in the election law that was deemed unconstitutional. However, on a political level, it reeks of hypocrisy to boost their image at our expense, insisting on categorizing us and undermining the choices of women, which all calls for challenging this mentality."

Responding to claims by supporters of the amendment that it promotes "equality" by applying it universally to both men and women, Kuwaiti writer and politician Salwa al-Saeed clarified that, on the contrary, it exacerbates the problem. By making the condition binding for both genders, candidates could be disqualified based on their vague commitment to Sharia, which means that the Commission under the authority of the Minister of Justice, is what decides who does and who doesn't.

She remarked, "I've said it before, the lack of legislation is better than bad legislation. This is a regrettable decline in the quality of legislation!"

Kuwaiti activists and citizens have expressed their discontent over what many view as an attempt to "politically exclude women under the guise of religion", in a "historical setback" that reinforces "imposing guardianship on women, using Sharia to justify it"

Kuwaiti women activists stressed the importance of building on the events of the session when selecting their representatives in parliament in the future. Dr. Aroub al-Rifai, a public affairs activist, urged, "As women, we must not forget those who voted in favor of discrimination against women and those who supported it. When voting in the upcoming elections, we should take note of representatives' positions on women's issues, to deny our votes to those who harm us. We must also recognize the value of having women deputies in parliament, a fundamental gain that cannot be replaced. Women in parliament are our advocates and voices on matters that affect us."

Is this what Kuwaiti women deserve?

Meanwhile, in a thought-provoking opinion article for the local newspaper Al-Qabas, former Kuwaiti minister, Dr. Ghadeer Mohammed Asiri, eloquently reminded us of the invaluable role played by Kuwaiti women in their country, especially during the tumultuous period of the Iraqi invasion and its aftermath, prompting the question, "Is this what Kuwaiti women truly deserve?"

Reflecting on history, she stated, "Kuwaiti women actively participated in the ranks of the resistance, with many making the ultimate sacrifice and becoming martyrs during that turbulent political era. Numerous women were taken captive by the invading forces, subjected to imprisonment and torture in prisons and detention centers, just like Kuwaiti men were."

She continued, "After 15 years of liberation and women's relentless struggle for rights, standing up to those who continue to attack them and doubt their capabilities while fighting for their right to equality in voting and candidacy, Kuwaiti women now find themselves facing a society, that, instead of empowering them in 2023, it still imposes pressures laws and restrictions, curbing their movement and progress, while reducing their political participation with regulations that question and discriminate against their ability to engage in politics."

Shaikha al-Bahawed: "This clause will likely have little impact, much like the one in the election law that was ruled unconstitutional. But politically, it reeks of hypocrisy and image polishing at our expense, by categorizing and undermining women's choices"

Drawing attention to the current trend of diminishing women's capabilities through proposed laws by some MPs, Dr. Ghadeer firmly asserted that "trading their issues with guardianship is absolutely unacceptable, especially concerning the establishment of the Supreme Commission for Elections in a progressive and inclusive civil state, guided by a clear constitution that treats all citizens equally."

Concluding her article, she emphasized, "It is illogical for the law, which comes after the constitution, to contradict its own articles that explicitly endorse complete equality and reject the imposition of guardianship on women in Kuwait's laws and decisions. Suppressing the identity and aspirations of Kuwaiti women is a grave injustice, denying them the right to shape their appearance, occupation, lifestyle, and future, just like their male counterparts in the country."

While Kuwait became the first Gulf country to adopt a parliamentary system in 1962, it wasn't until 2005 that Kuwaiti women were granted the right to vote and run for elections. In 2009, four Kuwaiti women made history by winning seats in the National Assembly for the first time. However, the number of female deputies in the assembly has declined since then.

While Kuwait was at the forefront of granting women political rights in the Gulf region, extending back for decades, Kuwait has experienced a distressing regression in freedoms and achievements in recent times, coinciding with the emergence of those who advocate for the fusion of religion and politics.

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The level of justice in a society is determined by the degree of individual freedom its citizens enjoy. This includes the ability to express themselves, live their lives authentically, and feel safe from harm or punishment. Sadly, in our region and many other places, human rights are constantly endangered by oppressive forces. It's up to us to make a difference and lead the way towards positive change.

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