Kuwaiti Women Win Right to Vote
FRANK STASIO, host:
Earlier today the Kuwaiti parliament voted to give women the right to vote and run for office. This makes Kuwait the fourth Arab country after Oman, Bahrain and Qatar to grant women suffrage in recent years. We are joined now by one of Kuwait's activists who worked very hard for this today. Fatima al-Abdali is a member of the Women's Social-Cultural Society and attended the parliament session today.
Thanks for joining us.
Ms. FATIMA AL-ABDALI (Kuwaiti Women's Social-Cultural Society): Thank you, sir.
STASIO: Tell us about the scene in parliament after the vote passed.
Ms. AL-ABDALI: Oh, it was like the National Day for Kuwait, the National Day for democracy, the National Day for women of Kuwait. It was really a day that we've been waiting for for years.
STASIO: How many years? How long has this struggle gone on?
Ms. AL-ABDALI: Oh, myself, with my, you know, generation now, we are since the liberation of Kuwait; that's been 15 years. Fifteen years we are in this, but before that since '67, women of Kuwait are working and of course all the men who were supporting the women of Kuwait were working now about for almost 40 years for this right.
STASIO: Certainly it was a difficult struggle to begin with. In the last few years has this been a difficult struggle, or was it simply a matter of time and it was obvious that this changes?
Ms. AL-ABDALI: This was very difficult during the last three years. We had very difficulty especially after the decrees, after emir of the country, the president of the country--he issued the decree since 1999, and since then we are working very hard, but for the last three years it was very hard on us because the fundamentalists, actually the other groups that are against women--they were working against us all the way. And the government didn't show any seriousness in this business, so we felt that we almost lost the battle last year. But with new tactics between women activists and between the parliament members, we succeeded to put everybody on the corner and to show some seriousness in their work.
STASIO: Now is the struggle over or are there still serious obstacles to overcome in terms of women's rights?
Ms. AL-ABDALI: Actually, the law that was against women today was passed where they changed--there was only one word in this law saying Kuwaiti men, so they now removed the word `men' and it became `Kuwaiti of 21 years old can vote.' But only they put one obstacle for women, which is something related to our Islam and our Shariah that the woman has to stick to those, you know, rules and principles of Shariah and of Islam. And this could make a little bit our movement not very free in democracy.
STASIO: Well, how would that impinge on your rights or your ability to run for office?
Ms. AL-ABDALI: Actually, it will be open for running for office, but what we will suffer from the culture of the country and of the area of the Gulf, the whole Gulf, that they don't accept women to run for office. They can run, no problem, but to succeed and to pass and to vote for them we need a lot of effort to be started from today to reach it maybe on 2007; that will be our election day. But it will be very difficult to convince people to change their cultural values that women should get into the parliament equal to men.
STASIO: Are there many women now who are ready to run for office, and will you run?
Ms. AL-ABDALI: To tell you the truth, not many women that they announced, but we--the ones that we are announced, maybe we have six or eight that we announced since four years ago. But today we don't know. Maybe because they opened--we have now the doors open for us and everybody can run, so maybe women will be more and maybe from the Islamists also they will--from that group also they will--their women also will come with us in this. We don't know yet. But...
STASIO: And does this apply to local and national offices?
Ms. AL-ABDALI: Yeah, for--actually, we have the National Assembly, which is our parliament, and we have also for municipality.
STASIO: All right.
Ms. AL-ABDALI: And that one was last month and three weeks ago an issue which was also difficult to pass; it didn't pass also the municipality, you know, issue or office.
STASIO: Fatima, thank you very much. We have to go, but I congratulate you.
Fatima al-Abdali is a member in an activist group of the Women's Social-Cultural Society and joined us from Kuwait.
This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Frank Stasio.
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