GLOBAL | summer 2003
The right to vote is postponed
The women of Kuwait have been waiting a long time to vote. Now they will have to wait a little longer. Despite years of unflagging effort by the country's women activists, and despite the Emir of Kuwait's 1999 royal decree granting women complete political rights by 2003, the outcome of Kuwait's parliamentary elections this July will be decided exclusively by men. Not until the 2007 parliamentary election will women get to cast their ballots. Maybe.
In November of 1999, 120 Kuwaiti women sat in the parliament's viewing gallery overlooking the all-male legislature. They wore bright orange T-shirts reading "Rise Up Women 2003," while anxiously waiting for the men to decide whether or not to approve the Emir’s edict. The measure was defeated in a 32-30 vote.
Although that outcome was disappointing, Dr. Farida Al-Habib, chief of cardiology at Kuwait Armed For Hospital, is confident that she and her fellow countrywomen will soon be as well represented at the voting booth as they are in professional life – where they currently serve as doctors, editors, journalists, board members and ambassadors. Said Al-Habib, in a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., "Women have more of a role to play than simply to cook and clean for men. We are here to contribute to society."
She pointed to the ironic contrast between her professional and political allowances. As a surgeon, she routinely enters the "small veins and arteries in the hearts of men” to clear the blockages. Yet these same men "block me from voting."
The Kuwaiti suffragists: present at the Washington panel, organized in part by the women’s rights group, Vital Voices, won't stop lobbying until they finally enter their country's voting booths. Women's suffrage, says Rola Dashti, chairperson and CEO of FARO International, a Kuwaiti financial services consulting business, is a “precondition of development" – an imperative right in a progressive, 21st century country.