Kuwaitis lambast appointment of all-male parliamentary committee for women's rights

Kuwaitis lambast appointment of all-male parliamentary committee for women's rights
News of the appointment of three Islamists to a committee for women's rights was roundly criticised by Kuwaiti social media users, including prominent women's rights advocates and academics.
3 min read
23 December, 2020
The trio won their appointment to the committee uncontested [Twitter]
Social media users in Kuwait have lambasted the formation of an all-male Islamist parliamentary committee focusing on women's rights, describing it as the latest blow to gender equality after 29 female candidates failed to secure a seat in elections earlier this month.

In the second session of the newly elected parliament held on Tuesday, MPs were assigned seats in interim and permanent parliamentary committees.

Some were handed roles after a vote and others received seats uncontested. Among the latter group were male MPs who joined the interim committee for women's, families' and children's affairs.

Notably, they were three Islamist-leaning lawmakers: Osama Al-Munawer, Saleh Al-Mutairi and Osama Al-Shaheen, who ran as a candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Islamic Constitutional Movement (ICM).

News of their appointment was roundly criticised by Kuwaiti social media users, including prominent women's rights advocates and academics. 

Dr Sheikha Al-Jassem, a philosophy professor at Kuwait University who ran unsuccessfully in this year's elections, expressed pity, saying: "Girls, we're a lost cause".

Striking a sombre tone on the parallel appointment of Islamist-leaning politicians to the dubiously-named committee for 'harmful social phenomena', she said both men and women had their "freedom under threat" and vowed to oppose any "violation" of "our constitutional rights".

Iqbal Ahmad, a journalist for Kuwait's daily Alqabas, responded to the appointment of the lawmakers by offering a prayer: "O Lord, grant us women that which is in our favour when it comes to this [all-male women's committee]".

Areej Hamadah, a prominent female lawyer, weighed in on the possible ramifications for legislation supporting women's rights, saying: "Islamist dominance over this committee will deprive Kuwaiti women of many of their rights, including those rights of children who are fathered by non-residents, which mothers have long campaigned for".

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Nada Al-Mutawa, a member of the board of trustees at Kuwait College of Science Technology, bemoaned the appointment as consequence of women failing to elect a single female candidate in elections early this month, calling it a "loud message" which protected the patriarchal status quo.

Women won the right to vote 15 years ago in Kuwait, yet the sole female lawmaker in the country lost her seat in elections held this month.

The polls were the first since the new emir, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, took office in September following the death of his half-brother, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, at the age of 91.

The country has the Gulf's oldest elected parliament, but under the constitution the emir has extensive powers and can dissolve the legislature at the recommendation of the government

While political parties are banned in Kuwait, which has been ruled by the Al-Sabah family for two and a half centuries, many groups operate freely as de facto parties. The opposition coalition is made up of individuals, rather than well-defined parties with a distinct ideology.

The Muslim Brotherhood-linked Islamic Constitutional Movement (ICM) won three seats, while candidates from the Shia minority population won six.

However, power is concentrated in the royal family, with the emir choosing the prime minister and 15 of the 16 cabinet posts.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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