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The New Arab

Kuwaiti women still battling for legal and political recognition

Kuwaiti women obtained universal suffrage in 2005 but the glass ceiling remains thick [AFP]

Date of publication: 11 May, 2016

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Women in Kuwait thought they were finally on track for political and social recognition in 2005, but they have since suffered setbacks, activists and NGOs warn.
Nearly ten years after Kuwaiti women were granted full political rights in 2005, following a thunderous parliament session in which most MPs were opposed, they continue to face numerous social, cultural and rights-related obstacles.

This was the conclusion of 12-page report published by the Kuwait Society for Human Rights for the year 2015, which tracked the conditions of Kuwaiti women over the past five years.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including calls for reforms in line with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Main issues of concern included the citizenship law, domestic violence, so-called honour crimes, custody of children, detention conditions, employment in addition to political and public life.

Equal citizenship

The KSHR called on the government to grant Kuwaiti women the right to pass on citizenship to their children from non-Kuwaitis unconditionally.

"One law where women are heavily discriminated against is the citizenship law," Huda al-Anzi, activist with Kuwaiti Women Without Borders, told The New Arab.

"Women married to non-Kuwaitis cannot pass on citizenship to their children," she added, "even if they are born and raised all their lives in Kuwait."

Anzi said this law is unconstitutional as it contradicts the constitution's stipulations regarding equality among people and non-discrimination over sex and gender.
Under the current law, the children of Kuwaiti women married to non-citizens are treated as Kuwaitis but only until they turn 18
Under the current law, the children of Kuwaiti women married to non-citizens are treated as Kuwaitis but only until they turn 18. After that, they are treated as foreigners, needing residence permits to remain unless they are citizens of other Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

"More than ten thousand Kuwaiti women are married to foreign citizens, more than half of whom are stateless Bidoon," said Muna al-Qinai, family lawyer quoting a study published by the Kuwaiti Women's Cultural Association.

But Qinai admitted some progress has been made, with these individuals with Kuwaiti mothers being accepted into the the military.

The law also makes exceptions to children of Kuwaiti mothers and foreign mothers whose fathers died or whose mothers were divorced, in which case they are granted Kuwaiti nationality.

Yet this is at the discretion of the interior minister, and the loophole sometimes means families are torn apart in order to give children nationality.
Women after 2005 were given the right to run and vote in elections. In 2006 and 2008, women participated but failed to win any seats in parliament
Suffrage granted but glass ceiling firm

Women after 2005 were given the right to run and vote in elections. In 2006 and 2008, women participated but failed to win any seats in parliament. 

In 2009, however, women snatched four out of fifty seats in parliament: Massouma al-Mubarak, who was appointed Kuwait's first female cabinet minister in 2005, two US-educated professors, Salwa al-Jassar and Aseel al-Awadhi, and an economist, Rola Dashti.

However, the hopes that Kuwaiti women pinned on the four women MPs to obtain more rights were soon dashed.

"They (the dominant politicians) are proving something bad, namely, that their number one enemy is women," women's rights activist Shaikha al-Ali told The New Arab.

"The women MPs were preoccupied with political and sectarian quarrels and defending the prime minister who was later toppled, and forgot about women's rights," she added.

The activist said the women even endorsed the government's discriminatory policies against women when they became ministers, accusing them of political opportunism.

"Some Islamists voted against granting women the right to run in elections, but their proposals in 2009 were actually more pro-women than those of the women MPs."

In the 2012 elections, women again failed to win seats, while no official quota was allocated for women, arguably one of the effective ways to ensure they are represented in legislatures.
Women are on track to join the judiciary, police and army in Kuwait
Limited progress 

Earlier this year, the Kuwaiti government appointed 22 women prosecutors in a first step towards appointing them as judges for the first time in Kuwait. Five years earlier, Kuwait passed a law that paved the way for women to join the police force and the army.

"Women have failed in Kuwaiti politics so far for two reasons: political life in Kuwait itself is stalling, and second, socially speaking, women's experience remains recent amid confusion and failure to set priorties," Khalil Khaled, sociologist at Kuwait University, told The New Arab.

"It will take some time yet before things reach their natural conclusion," he added.

The Guardian said it was Iraq's occupation of Kuwait in 1990 that played a crucial role in the liberalisation of women's political and social rights.

At the time, many women assumed important responsibilities, volunteering in hospitals to compensate for the lack of medical staff, smuggling food, money, and weapons across military checkpoints.

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