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Last Updated: Monday, 14 March, 2005, 18:15 GMT
Women's rights in Kuwait
Women holding placards at demonstration in Kuwait City, Kuwait
Hundreds of protesters in Kuwait have held a women's rights protest outside the country's all-male parliament.

The assembly is debating a government request to speed up the passage of a law on women's rights, which was approved by the cabinet last May.

But most Islamic groups in Kuwait are against granting women political rights and the parliament has twice defeated similar measures in recent years.

Should the Kuwaiti authorities do more to improve women's rights in the country? Do you live in Kuwait and are you involved in the protests?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of views received.

I would like to clear up a few things about the Kuwaiti government and society. Kuwait is not your average fundamentalist Islamic country, ut is just catching up a bit later than nations in the West. The US went through a lot to grant women the right to vote and now it is Kuwait's turn. Remember the Kuwaiti constitution was born in the early 1960s. It's a very young constitution and for women's rights to vote and to run as candidates for parliament to come up now is a natural transition. It's a right of passage that every nation goes through, big or small. Women in Kuwait are capable and I am sure they will contribute a lot to our country once they get in.
Abdul Aziz Faisal al-Nasrallah, Kuwaiti in London

I don't see why the Kuwaiti Islamic groups are against giving women their rights. Women's rights have always been present in Islam. The men need to give the women their God-given rights.
Aaisha, Santa Clara, CA, USA

Kuwaiti women must be allowed to vote and be involved in the political process of their country
Majid, Basra, Iraq
It is 2005. Kuwaiti women must be allowed to vote and be involved in the political process of their country. The Islamic parties in Kuwait have to stop being an obstacle in front of this democratic step, as well as the government.
Majid, Basra, Iraq

Yes of course they should improve women's rights. It is a disgrace. Women have the right to vote in Iran which is often touted as Bush's next target in his war against non-democracies, or in Cuba which is constantly criticized for its repression, or in Venezuela which is being depicted as dictatorial because the majority support Chavez who may restrict the big corporations from exploiting its people. Kuwaiti women are forced to suffer in silence while all the noise is made against the opponents of predatory capitalism.
Roger Lafontaine, Ottawa, Canada

I totally agree women should be given equal rights that men have, not only in Kuwait but all the other Islamic countries should give equal human rights to women. Women in all Islamic countries should rise up demanding freedom, this is the right time, this matter should be raised in UN and should become a major issue.
Aftaab Jang, Lahore, Pakistan

Kuwaiti members of parliament supporting the call should go on a massive strike. Male citizens should start boycotting elections until the right to vote is given to their female counterparts. It's about time Kuwait joined the rest of the Gulf and started treating its women as human beings.
Abbas Al-Lawati, Omani in Montreal, Canada

I was born and raised in Kuwait and I am happy that Kuwait going through the processes of democracy. Do not judge Kuwait or any other country by your own standards. Each country has its own path to where they should be and they will take their time as required. This fight for women's rights is a process from which all Kuwaitis will learn from and all others. The key is to establish processes by which people can gain their rights and voice their opinions. Kudos to the Kuwaiti women who are setting the example in their state.
Sultan, USA

the Western world should stay out of it and let them deal with the issue themselves
Remi Olusegun, Lagos, Nigeria
Change will come at its own time. I believe women should be allowed to exercise their right to vote, but I believe the Western world should stay out of it and let them deal with the issue themselves. The so-called democracy they are preaching is not all transparent after all.
Remi Olusegun, Lagos, Nigeria

The stance taken by the Islamic groups in Kuwait is shameful to say the least. I have been a supporter of Kuwait's Islamic parties all my life and am deeply ashamed by them in regards to this matter. I can see no excuse as Islam enshrined the equality of men and women in the Koran 1400 years ago.
Hassan Deeb, Southampton, UK

I am a woman, born and raised in Kuwait. Women's rights in Kuwait constitute much more than the 'right to vote'. Although I'm all for women's voting rights, without a fundamental change in the whole attitude of the male population of Kuwait towards the status of women, there will never be equality of the sexes in that country. Domestic violence, be it husbands beating their wives and daughters or the sons beating their mothers and sisters will still continue. Lower salaries for women doing the same jobs as men will still be standard practice. Women's ideas will still be ridiculed, and the word 'woman' will still be the synonym for 'coward'. Kuwaiti men should know that human rights goes far beyond 'being allowed to drive', 'dressing as they like' and being 'allowed to acquire education'.
Fery, Stratford-on-Avon, UK

Yes, the Kuwaiti authorities should do all they can to improve women's rights. Women are equal to men and should have all the same rights that they enjoy. I don't believe a culture that doesn't allow women to vote is one that is pleasing to many women. Those women who do not want to vote don't have to, but those who long to voice their opinion should be heard.
Tracy, USA

As a Kuwaiti I fully support women to have a vote and a representation in the Parliament. Look what Margaret Thatcher did for Kuwait and she is a women. Kuwait is not only for men, women live there and they have the right to representation. We have to move forward, and this should not scare us. Yes for women's vote.
Mohammad Karam, Kuwait

When the Kuwaiti women decide this injustice must end, they will gain their freedom
Vani, Singapore
Women's rights are human rights. The right to vote, the right to determine our own lives - this is a universal value and right. Everyone is involved in this struggle but when the Kuwaiti women decide this injustice must end, they will gain their freedom.
Vani, Singapore

There is very little in terms of women's rights all over the Arab world. If this doesn't change, then we the people of the Middle East are not moving forward!
Ahmed, Cairo, Egypt

Please, these rights are an agenda by certain Western states to promote their own ideas and interests and for Muslims to forget their religion. The majority of women are happy with the culture of Islam, why does the West always try to push an alternative view on to them?
Ash, London, UK

I start by voicing my strongest support for women's rights in Kuwait and all other democratic reform. However, while I agree that Kuwaiti women should have been granted the vote a long time ago, I think that many people do not recognise the effort put forth by the enlightened political movements of Kuwait in this regard. Few people realise that the fight for women's suffrage rights in Kuwait has been an ongoing battle since the 1970s, while Kuwait only became independent and adopted its constitution in the early 1960s.
Talal al-Rashoud, Kuwaiti in US

I personally think that this has gone on too long. Women are the other half of the community, so the least that could be done for them is to give them their rights in these matters.
Abdulla Al-Taweel, Aberdeen, from Kuwait

According to he Holy Koran, human beings are equal before God irrespective of sex, colour or race. In the Islamic tradition, women played a prominent role in society. So the excuse that in Islam women are supposed to be left behind does not hold water. The Gulf sheikhdoms like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia should give men and women total freedom including the right to vote and to be voted in office. Such rights are exercised by the Islamic Republic of Iran and in the republic of Turkey. If sheikhdoms don't democratise, the sheikhs will be swept away by Islamic revolutions as it was the case in Iran.
Ahmed Kateregga Musaazi, Kampala, Uganda

I was there... there were more than 1,000 people rallying, women and men of all ages. The basic right of half the population to be in the political and governmental arena is not to be delayed because of the past nor disputed on the basis of religion. That would be blasphemous to a religion which dignifies and embraces women's role in society. The pressing human rights issues aren't excluded when women's rights come to the forefront; they are intertwined. Women's rights are not a "female issue" but a human issue, and therefore, cannot be excluded. The time has come for the active and well-educated half of the society to make democracy a reality in Kuwait!
A hopeful Kuwaiti, Kuwait

Giving women the right to vote is a thing that should have happened in that country along time ago, meanwhile the Kuwaiti election is a sham just as the Iranian elections were. Kuwaitis should focus on human rights as well.
Arian, Iran

In Kuwait, other basic human rights are far more important than women's rights
Mansour Seraj, Amran

I still don't understand what happens to freedom fighter/democracy promoter, President Bush, when it comes to liberating people in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. He normally turns a blind eye. In Kuwait, other basic human rights are far more important than women's rights. There are about 300,000 people in Kuwait who are severely discriminated against and condescendingly looked down upon. They are called "albdoon" which literally means the without (nationality). Where is the UN and where is Mr Freedom Fighter?
Mansour Seraj, Amran, Yemen

In Iran, despite of visible discriminations against women and their social status, at least basic legislative rights such as the right to vote and the right to stand in election have been in place and guaranteed since 40 years ago. It is so hypocritical when Arab governments call for more human rights in Iran and meanwhile legislation-wise they are so behind of fundamentalist mullahs!
RS, Tehran, Iran

Women fought side-by-side with men in 90/91 during the occupation by Iraq. They were resistance fighters and translators with the Allies. When they returned, they assumed (wrongly) that they would be given the same voice in their government as men. It is 14 years later, and the same women are still fighting.
Meghan McCabe, Kuwait

As a citizen of the greatest country in the world, Kuwait, I feel the need to explain a few things. 400 women out of a population of one million Kuwaitis took to the streets. I am all for equality between men and women, women should be allowed to vote, but, the truth of the matter is the majority of women in Kuwait couldn't care less! Including the women in my family (extended of course). On a topic completely unrelated to this: when will the West understand that western democracy is not for everyone in the world. I would gladly give up my Kuwaiti parliamentary vote in exchange for not paying taxes!
BuRashid, Kuwaiti in New York City

One day women will have this right whether the government likes it or not
A Al-Obaidi, USA

Apart from voting, women in Kuwait have all the rights they need. They are allowed to acquire education (local and international), drive cars, dress as they like (within the Kuwaiti tradition), they can travel by their own, etc. Now for the voting rights, well they are denied from this important right. I think what should the Kuwaiti government do, is to realize that change is inevitable. One day women will have this right whether the government likes it or not. The government should start to involve, train and educate women to understand this right so when the right time comes, they can participate actively in the process.
A Al-Obaidi, USA

I do not agree with those who say that just because western women did not have the right to vote a hundred years ago that we must go easy on nations who do not grant women franchise today. Women's suffrage was a hard fought victory in the West. Women all over the world do not have to go though the same struggle and should be able to leverage on the achievements of women in the West. Hundred years ago in some countries men did not have the right to vote either. So why don't we ease up on the whole idea of democracy and just allow dictatorships to flourish?
Janaki, Boston, USA

I was part of the protest and was very impressed at how all the people were there for one reason. It was a great experience to see everyone with one heart, fighting against those religious mis-interpeters that give our country a bad image.
DJ, Kuwait

When interviewed after the defeat of Mr Bush Sr in the presidential elections of 1992, Mrs Thatcher opined that Mr Bush was a great president who had brought freedom and liberty to all Kuwaitis, after the first gulf war. Is it at all possible women still have to fight for their rights in a staunch ally and friend of the free world?
Mohansingh, India

We can't expect the rest of the world's human rights laws to change at the same pace as our own, that's simply arrogant
Simon Graham, London, UK
Yes women deserve the vote but let's not forget that less than 100 years ago women didn't have the vote in the UK. We can't expect the rest of the world's human rights laws to change at the same pace as our own, that's simply arrogant. Additionally, let Kuwait's political evolution happen naturally and without Western influence. Otherwise we risk fuelling the extreme Islamic clerics' calls for a jihad against the West.
Simon Graham, London, UK

Kuwaiti constitution guarantees equal rights to both sexes. That surely means women have the right to vote. But they are prevented by the hardliners under the pretext of Islam. The so-called restrictions imposed on women folk has nothing to do with Islam, but are mostly attached to the tribal code. A little courage and wisdom from the part of authorities can bring about necessary changes in the electoral laws.
Hussain Chirathodi, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Mark, USA: Kuwaiti women (and women in all Arab countries) have been struggling for equal rights for several years. This has nothing to do with Bush's ill conceived invasion of Iraq.

This is one more victory for President Bush and another defeat for his opponents. The snowball has started rolling down the side of the mountain and is getting bigger and faster. The reactionary forces of political and religious tyranny are being swept away as Arab populations see that there is nothing preventing them from taking control of their own destiny if they only have the will.
Mark, USA

Kuwait's women are some of the best educated and well travelled anywhere in the Arab world. They deserve nothing less than full political rights and equality with their menfolk.
Suhail Shafi, USA

Women's rights are inextricably tied to human rights and democracy. Kuwait is an absolute monarchy and the parliament lives at the sufferance of the royal family. Citizenship is based on tribes, not birth. Many a time, in London and elsewhere, women employees of Kuwaiti residents have been rescued from near-slavery. Even if women gain voting rights and the country becomes a constitutional monarchy, the majority of people would have no rights.
Thiruvengadam Ramakrishnan, New Orleans, Louisiana

Another misconception. Arabic culture and Islam. Muslim and Arab. Although to many all four terms are interchangeable, they are not. The thin line between what Islam requires and what Muslim people do is invisible to the majority of people. There is no where in Islam where it states women must not vote and must be oppressed. I come from an Arab and Muslim country that is only a few hours drive from Kuwait and women are in no way prohibited from any type of vote.
Hameeda Alshabib, Bahrain

I don't think there will be any kind of change in policy for a few woman with banners
Khadeja, Kuwait
As an expat Kuwaiti, I feel that a half-hearted 400 woman march won't do very much for the cause of women's rights. There are thousands of women in this country and I don't think there will be any kind of change in policy for a few woman with banners. I passed the march and I didn't feel there was a very big police presence, no more than any other kind of event. The police take security very seriously here with all the terrorist threats and they never harassed the woman in any way. More support is needed for there to be change here.
Khadeja, Kuwait

Granted, Kuwaiti women deserve the right to vote, however I think a more pressing issue is ensuring the basic human rights to the two million-strong population of working class house aides and manual labourers. Most of these women organising the campaign are in fact wives of liberal wealthy husbands and have nothing better to do with their time. I'm in favour of the voting, I just think the motive is not completely honest. For a fact, they don't even have an official representative or dialogue with the government.
Ali, Kuwait City

Having lived in Kuwait the single worry that enters my mind concerns how the women will use this vote. In many Kuwaiti families the men have a large amount of power, what would happen is that husbands and fathers would tell their wives or daughters how to vote, thus destroying the political system.
TK, St Catherine's, Ontario

OK, so Kuwaiti women are getting rights, but what about the majority of the population who are non-Kuwaitis? They are the most vulnerable population in the Persian Gulf states and their rights need more than lip service.
Rasha, Doha, Qatar

No country can claim to be a civilized, decent society if half of its society remains unemancipated
Stephen Cook, New Orleans, USA
While Kuwait has one of the best human rights records in the Arab world women still cannot vote or hold office. No country can claim to be a civilized, decent society if half of its society remains unemancipated.
Stephen Cook, New Orleans, USA

Interesting how women's rights issues in Muslim countries always manage to make the headlines here. I wonder how much they hear about the UK's lack of equal pay (still) and growing domestic violence?
C. Kubazdro, UK

During my four year stay in Kuwait 10 years ago I found Kuwaiti women to be in much better shape socially than most Islamic countries, including my native Pakistan. Kuwaiti women are educated and outnumber men in university education. The women in Kuwait are very modern while keeping links to their Arab and Islamic roots. Kuwait can become a pioneer in the Arab world for starting democracy and giving women equal political and other human rights. Such a move will break the back of religious extremists in the country.
Tahir Ahmed, Mississauga, Canada

Women deserve every right given to men. Traditions based on outdated philosophies are a means of social control and dominance of an entire population of females who have as much to offer as any man.
Ian Washburn, Bloomington, Indiana USA

Kuwait must grant women more rights, including that of the vote
Haresh Keswani, Tanzania
Having lived in Kuwait for five years, I know that Kuwaiti women are among the most educated and advanced in the Arab world. Kuwait must grant women more rights, including that of the vote. This would benefit Kuwait as a whole in every sphere of socio-economic life. Tunisia can be a role model here amongst Arab countries and if Kuwait does not do this now for whatever reasons, it will need to do so in the near future. The writing is on the wall and Kuwaitis know this.
Haresh Keswani, Tanzania

The West dropped the ball on this issue when they freed Kuwait from Iraq. We should have insisted on democratisation and equal rights. Apparently, thoughts of flowing oil clouded our view.
Dwayne Chastain, West Jefferson, Ohio

Living amongst Muslims I understand how the women of Kuwait are feeling, however I very much doubt any drastic changes are going to take place in the near future, because I know Arab culture and in that culture women simply are seen to be less important than men. I think that slowly the situation will change, but it is not something that will happen overnight. In some countries such as Lebanon, women are gaining self-confidence and are becoming more and more 'Western'. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion.
Eid Jadon, Jerusalem, Israel/Palestinian territories

One hundred years from Emmeline Pankhurst and Arab suffragettes are fighting for rights which are natural in many corners of the globe for 100 years at least. What are Kuwaiti men are afraid of? Neither tradition nor their rights would be hurt by women's rights. For me - who grew up already equipped with rights - it is far beyond what I can understand.
Mary McCannon, Budapest, Hungary

Muslim countries' records on human rights abuses are in general atrocious. However with global integration and instant passage of information becoming the norm they are having to change. Women's rights are mandatory for the development of these countries so they had better get used to the fact and reform.
Stan, UK

We are not speaking here about changing a simple law. We are speaking of a cultural revolution in the Islamic world which will eventually lead to the downfall of tyrannical governments who treat not only women as chattel, but anyone who isn't in the ruling classes.
Jasmine, USA

The problem here is the 'all male' parliament, who may never agree to give women their rights. All the women in Kuwait must stand together and absolutely refuse to provide any services / support to men who don't support their rights. Get organised and leave your homes, bring your children, and stand together in a public place. Surround yourselves with the world's media and refuse to go home until your rights are protected. You make up 50% of the population and male society cannot function without you, so you must force them to realise this.
Franchesca Mullin, Northern Ireland

Kuwait protest for women's rights
07 Mar 05 |  Middle East
Kuwait to discuss women's votes
22 Feb 05 |  Middle East
Kuwait moves to grant women vote
16 May 04 |  Middle East
Muslim girls struggle for education
24 Sep 03 |  Middle East
Timeline: Kuwait
14 Jul 03 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Kuwait
11 Sep 03 |  Country profiles

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