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Parliaments Stand In The Way of Women In Arab World

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  • Parliaments Stand In The Way of Women In Arab World

    Parliaments Stand In The Way of Women In Arab World

    Several Arab parliaments stand in the way of government efforts to extend the rights of women in the conservative and mostly Muslim region.

    The most striking example is in Kuwait, where MPs in November narrowly rejected a proposal from the ruling Emir to grant women the right to vote and stand for political office.

    "Religious groups say that granting women political rights would be contrary to Islam. But that's just not true," said Hind al-Duaij, an education ministry official in the Gulf emirate.

    "They use religion or tradition as a pretext, but they cannot deprive women of a right given to them by God."

    Since the defeat in parliament, Kuwaiti women have stepped up protests at voter registration centres and plan to take their case to the courts on Wednesday, having filed a complaint against Interior Minister Sheikh Mohammed Khaled al-Sabah.

    Islamic and tribal MPs have warned it would be a "crime" to allow women to sit in parliament.

    "Only women who have reached menopause are demanding women's rights," according to tribal deputy Hussein al-Mutairi.

    "Who will stay at home to look after the family, apart from Indians and Filipinas?" asked his Islamist colleague Ahmad Baqer, referring to domestic staff in the oil-rich country.

    Kuwait is the only Gulf Arab monarchy to have an elected parliament, but women in Qatar took part in a first municipal polls in April 1999.

    In Saudi Arabia, the most conservative country in the region, women for the first time attended a session of the kingdom's appointed consultative council in October.

    But the council's chairman, Mohammed bin Jubeir, warned they would never be admitted as members.

    "We are going backwards in the Arab world. Everyone copies each other to show they are even more underdeveloped," Duaij complained ahead of International Women's Day, which falls on Wednesday.

    In Egypt, Women's Forum president Farida al-Naccache said the denial of women's rights was "part of a backward slide in the whole of Arab society, including in development, civil rights and democratic freedom".

    "Parliaments, many of which resulted from rigged elections, reflect this situation and the religious or reactionary elements are dominant in them," she said.

    Naccache explained that the Egyptian government tried in January to grant women the right to divorce and to travel abroad without prior authorisation from their husbands.

    But it had to bow to parliament, which is almost exclusively male. MPs ruled out married women's freedom to travel and amended the divorce clause to make it more difficult for women.

    "It's only minor changes and the law still discriminates against women. But at least now it will be possible to settle the problems of 1.5 million women," who have been waiting for years for a court ruling on their divorces.

    In Jordan, parliament in November rejected a bill submitted by the government to annul an article in the penal code which allows so-called honour-related crimes to escape heavy punishment.

    The powerful Islamic Action Front said a change would be contrary to Islamic Sharia law and encourage delinquency.
    encourage delinquency? Subhan'Allah.


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