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Freedom House Hails Election of Female Lawmakers in Kuwait
Freedom House applauds the election of women to the Kuwaiti parliament for the first time and urges them to be strong advocates for the expansion of democracy and human rights as new members of the 50-person body. Four women won National Assembly seats in Saturday’s elections, which also saw gains for liberal and Shiite candidates at the expense of once-dominant Islamists.
“Women’s activists in Kuwait have toiled for years to achieve this moment of triumph,” said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. “Freedom House congratulates Kuwait for taking this important step forward, which we hope will lead to greater legal reforms expanding political rights and civil liberties, including women’s rights.”
Women in Kuwait gained the right to vote and run for office in 2005, but none had been elected until now. Unlike other Gulf Arab states, the National Assembly wields considerable power, including the ability to approve laws and the government’s budget.
Analysts say their victory came as voters expressed frustration with years of political confrontations between parliament and cabinet members. Such confrontations have led Kuwait's emir to dissolve parliament and call for new elections three times in the last three years.
Freedom House recently highlighted the progress that Kuwaiti women have made over the last five years in Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Gulf Edition. The report found that Kuwaiti women have the second highest degree of freedom in the Gulf Arab states, just behind Bahrain. In addition to greater political rights for women, Kuwait also has the region’s highest percentage of working women.
However, Kuwaiti women still face discrimination in many areas of life. Women cannot serve as judges or in the military. As elsewhere in the Gulf, they face unequal marital rights and cannot transfer their nationality to children and foreign-born husbands. They also lack equal rights in laws regulating social security, pensions, and inheritance.
“Kuwait’s female lawmakers have a historic opportunity to directly influence the debate on women’s rights,” said Windsor. “Their example will help show that women should be treated as equals in the public sphere as well as at home.”
Kuwait is ranked Partly Free in the 2008 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and in the 2008 version of Freedom of the Press.
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Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Kuwait since 1972.
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