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Women's suffrage in Kuwait

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Women could not participate in elections for much of human history, dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. In the 1800s, women began fighting for the right to vote, petitioning their governments and rallying fellow citizens to the cause. In 1893, New Zealand became the first country to allow women to vote, after almost 25% of the country’s women of European descent signed petitions. All New Zealand women – including Maori women – gained the right to vote. Australia followed suit in 1902. Enfranchisement did not extend to all Australian women, however. Aboriginal women and men could not vote for another sixty years. In Europe and North America, suffrage supporters submitted petitions, gave speeches, and held rallies. Some women were arrested and engaged in hunger strikes while in jail. One advocate, the American Alice Paul, served six prison terms. Other leaders of the suffrage movement included Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst in the United Kingdom; and Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Matilda J. Gage in the United States. When World War I spread across Europe, many woman suffrage organizations shifted their energies to aiding the war effort. The role that women played during that war helped sway public support behind enfranchisement. In 1918, women in the United Kingdom, Germany, Poland, and Canada, among other countries, gained the right to vote. In Canada, however, First Nations women and men had to wait more than another forty years until they could vote. In 1920, women in the United States won their battle. Native Americans were barred from voting for four more years on the federal level, while some states withheld their voting rights even longer. Ecuador became the first South American country to enfranchise women, granting full voting rights to all women in 1929. The next year, South Africa began enfranchisement of women – but only those of European descent. This was due to apartheid – the white government’s policy of segregation and discrimination against the country’s nonwhite majority. Voting rights did not extend to all South Africans until 1994. In 1931, women in Spain gained the right vote, but this lasted only five years, until Francisco Franco came to power in 1936. The end of World War II brought liberation to many European and Asian countries, and with that, enfranchisement of women. In 1947, India and Pakistan gained independence from Britain, and both of their constitutions granted women the right to vote. Chinese women gained voting rights in 1949, after a new government took power following a civil war. During the late 1940s and 1950s, women across Latin America gained the right to vote. The end of World War II brought decolonization in Africa. As African countries gained independence, voting rights for women followed. By the end of the 1960s, women across most of Africa could participate in elections. As the 1970s began, there were still a few European countries that did not allow women to vote. Over the course of the decade, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, and Moldova all enfranchised women. Liechtenstein followed in 1984. Some conservative Middle Eastern countries did not enfranchise women until the twenty-first century. In Bahrain, women won the right to vote in 2002; in Qatar, 2003; and in Kuwait, 2005. Saudi Arabia was the last country, besides Vatican City, that still denied women the right to vote because of their sex. In 2011 the Saudi king announced that women would be allowed to vote in later elections.



After Kuwait gained independence in 1961, the Kuwaiti parliament passed new laws that limited voting to those who were male, over the age of 21, and had family living in Kuwait since before 1920. Women from the first graduating class at various universities across Kuwait banded together to create the Women’s Cultural and Social Society in 1963. Their goals were to raise awareness of women’s issues, but more importantly, to boost Kuwaiti women up and give them the opportunities to succeed. Kuwaiti women did have many more freedoms in comparison to their close neighboring countries, such as access to a higher education.[1]

Women's Suffrage Movement

In 1973, parliament looked over a bill which would have given women the right to vote and run for elected office, which was ultimately overturned due to pressure from conservatives all over. Over 10 years later in 1984, the movement seemed to have gained some support when the current emir (Jaber Sabah) and the prime minister (Crown Prince Saad Sabah) announced that they were in favor of a women’s suffrage bill, which in turn offered some false hope. Different bills continued to be denied through 1985 and 1986 respectively, and until this changed, the highest position in government a Kuwaiti woman could hold was that of assistant secretary. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, Kuwait then became heavily involved in the Iraq-Iran war. With the involvement in the war, it became vital for women to become hospital volunteers and even push the boundaries to smuggle in food and necessary items for their families. Since women took the initiative, they also demanded acknowledgment and recognition for their efforts. The parliament agreed and the first woman was finally appointed as the ambassador of the Persian Gulf in 1993. In May 1999, the current emir issued a decree that allowed women the right to vote and run for office, however, under the Kuwaiti Constitution, Parliament was allowed to reject and overrule the emir, and it did. However, for a period of 6 months, women had the right to vote. Unfortunately, there were no elections heard during this time before the emir was overruled.[2]

The movement began to gain speed after this, and the first non-violent demonstration kicked off in 1996 when 500 women stopped working for an hour to show solidarity in their right for suffrage. Small demonstrations continued throughout the next 6 years and in 2002 a few Kuwaiti women decided to protest outside voter registration centers. Things continued to escalate and in the 2003 election, women created mock ballots that “allowed hundreds of women to cast symbolic votes for real candidates.”[3] In March 2005, 1,000 people surrounded the Kuwaiti parliament to reinforce their need for suffrage. On May 17, 2005 a bill was passed 37 votes for and 21 votes against women’s suffrage, granting Kuwaiti women the right to vote and run for an elected office.[1]

Four years later, in May 2009, four female candidates won parliamentary seats in a general election out of fifty available seats.[4][5] Although this was 8% of parliament, by the 2013 election, no women had been elected in to the current parliament and the last woman elected resigned in May 2014.[6]


Noureya Al-Saddani: An author, historian, broadcaster, and director, Al-Saddani started the first women’s organization in Kuwait. In 1971 she proposed to the National Assembly to grant women's political rights[7]

Lulwa Almulla: worked around the globe and in her home country of Kuwait as well for the past 26 years, attempting to gain suffrage for women in her home. Although she helps run the family business, her true passion was in volunteering. She claims that women's suffrage does not end there and now women must be empowered to hold places in parliament.[8]

"The Criminal Court today sentenced Rana al-Sadoun to three years with hard labour in the case of her repeating a speech by Musallam al-Barrak."[9]

Kuwait and the ICCPR

Kuwait first ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1994 and 2 years later ratified the ICCPR, or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in 1996. In the year 2000, the Kuwaiti government has done little to modify its legislation that discriminates on the basis of gender.[10]

Objections under the ICCPR

"Although the Government of Kuwait endorses the worthy principles embodied in these two articles as consistent with the provisions of the Kuwait Constitution in general and of its article 29 in particular, the rights to which the articles refer must be exercised within the limits set by Kuwaiti law."[11]


In the area of nationality, Kuwaiti women do not have the right to give their children Kuwaiti citizenship if they marry non-Kuwaiti men. Kuwaiti women cannot receive residential care and other rights that men can have if they marry non-Kuwaiti women. If a person is born in or outside Kuwait and their father is a Kuwaiti national, they are automatically a national themselves.[12]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Kuwaiti women struggle for suffrage (Blue Revolution), 2002–2005 | Global Nonviolent Action Database". Retrieved 2016-12-08. 
  2. ^ Wills, Emily (2012). "Democratic Paradoxes: Women's Rights and Democratization in Kuwait". The Middle East Journal. 67: 173–184 – via ProQuest. 
  3. ^ PeaceVoice (2016-05-11). "Blue Revolution – Kuwaiti Women Gain Suffrage". PeaceVoice. Retrieved 2016-12-08. 
  4. ^ CNN
  5. ^ "Four Kuwaiti Women Become First to Win Seats in Parliament | NDI". Retrieved 2016-12-08. 
  6. ^ Shalaby, Marwa. "Women's Political Representation in Kuwait: An Untold Story" (PDF). Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy. 
  7. ^ "الأستاذة نورية السداني - تاريخ الكويت". Retrieved 2016-12-08. 
  8. ^ Kmietowicz, Zosia (2006). "Victory for women's rights in Kuwait reawakens hope". British Medical Journal. 333. 
  9. ^ "Kuwait activist sentenced for insulting emir". Retrieved 2016-12-08. 
  10. ^ "Kuwait: Promises Betrayed - Discrimination Against Women". Retrieved 2016-12-08. 
  11. ^ "United Nations Treaty Collection". Retrieved 2016-12-08. 
  12. ^ Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for. "Refworld | Nationality Law, 1959". Refworld. Retrieved 2016-12-08. 
This page was last edited on 24 November 2017, at 12:43.
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