Sister on a Mission

A Muslimah in the Midwest trying to counteract all the "war on terror" propaganda.

Location: Midwest, United States

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Women Get the Vote in Kuwait

I know a dear sister who has lived in Kuwait for almost 20 years. She has been commenting recently with some surprise at the Western media's playing up of the "great push" for and receipt of suffrage rights for women in Kuwait.

It seems that in reality this was not something the women were pushing for at all. On the contrary it was a small group of vocal, Westophile feminists and their male cohorts who are trying to kiss Bush Administration backside who were doing all the pushing. The average Kuwaiti woman on the street was not the least bit interested in gaining the right to vote. No parties where held, no women in offices congratulated each other, and women from from engineers to graphic designers to housewives all responded with disdain when asked about this wonderous event. In fact, calls for women to strike and rally on a certain day running up to the decision gathered a whopping *fourteen* attendees and a scheduled "mock vote" was canceled due to feared lack of attendance.

My friend says that the reason Kuwaiti women have not been up in arms about voting is because in every measurable category they enjoy a far better, fairer life than we do in the West. All the things that women traditionally come out to vote for - education (both quality of education for children and equal access to education for women), health care, child care, cost of living, etc. - are well taken care of for our Kuwaiti sisters. Families are given a stipend from the government upon marriage which increases with each child born, they enjoy free health care, free education, subsidized housing and utilities, and most women attend university. They are not oppressed like their Saudi sisters; they are allowed to drive, choose their own level of hijab and work outside the home without undue restrictions. In other words, Kuwaiti women feel sufficiently respected and listened to, and didn't feel a need to press for the right to vote at this time.

Another friend of ours pointed out, rightly, that just because women have it good today doesn't mean that they always will, and that it is always best for a society when all its citizens are allowed to vote.

I think that is a point well taken, but something still bothers me. Call me cynical but this whole thing seems to have been played for the Western media. I don't disagree that women should have the right to vote, but I think the reasons behind this newly gained right in Kuwait are suspect. It seems that some of those pushing for it long to be seen as progressive, modern and Western - when it was ISLAM that first guaranteed women the right to participate as fully independent entities in the political life of their communities. Muslim women made Baya' with Rasoolullah (salAllahu alaihi wa sallam) independently of their spouses: Jewish and Christian women would struggle for thirteen more centuries to be granted that basic human right. According to orthodox Jewish law women are STILL unable to make contracts or give testimony of any kind, because they are considered property of their husbands and not independent, thinking beings of worth on their own. But misinformed Muslim women all over the globe are scrambling to have others think of them as "modern" and "equal" because they follow the West's every whim and fad.

And that's the thing: very often these struggles for things like voting rights (which is an Islamic right) go hand in hand with taking off hijab and otherwise appearing Western, "modern", "civilized". The Kuwaiti women fighting for the vote wore Western clothes, lightened their hair and sported tshirts that read, *in English*, "We're Kuwaiti too". Their movement was made up mostly of women who seem to have left the deen behind them. But what these "Muslim feminists" don't realize is that in order to have a society that is fair to women, the Jews and Christians had to stray from their scripture. Whereas Islam already provided all those rights to women, but during and after colonial times many Muslim countries deviated away from their religion, and the natural result was injustice. See? Jews and Christians deviate from their scripture in order to achieve fairness, but in Islam it's the deviating which results in unfairness.

Another reason these sorts of media frenzies bother me is that these issues seem to be somewhat imposed from the outside and from a small, elite group on the inside. And that is NOT what democracy is about. This event, just like the Cedar Revolution, feels to me like some elaborately staged Bushesque theatre. My friend's family knows a woman who met with Condaleza Rice a few years ago in Washington, and the delegation of women she was with were told that they had to work for the vote because the Bush administration wanted it. Now it's T-minus a few weeks until the Kuwaiti Prime Minister is scheduled to visit Washington, and voila, "The Vote". That is suspicious enough in itself, but it gets even downright sinister: in order to pass this ammendment the Kuwaiti parliment had to agree to a pay raise of about $160 *per month* for every Kuwaiti who works for the government or is on a pension. In English, we call that a bribe.

This is one of my biggest criticisms of the Bush administration: it attempts to impose its twisted version of democracy by hook or by crook or by force, whichever way it can; killing, maiming, lying, cheating and stealing along the way. This entire women's vote thing feels like nothing more than a red herring Bush has arranged so he can point to Kuwait and say, "See, democracy is indeed spreading in the ME because of our 'foreign policy'". When in reality, there is nothing less democratic in the world.

So I am not jumping up and down because Kuwaiti women can vote. Not because I don't want them to be able to do so, but because I fear the reasons for the change.


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Sat Jan 28, 12:37:00 AM CST  
Anonymous lolo said...

While this wasn't an issue for the average Kuwaiti woman, or the average woman in the GCC, its a step in the right direction, regardless of our imminent distrust of Americanization. We have to be realkize that is always a part of our concern and history in the ME. The important things about GCC women to remember that those larger issues you mentioned exist because of the passivity of most women in the GCC. This phenomena has been studied and was presented recently by Dr. Alami of Saudi Arabia in several countries in the region, his research maybe available online as well. One of the reasons mentioned was due to those luxuries your friend mentioned that does make life nice/easier some of the women in these countries. In short, the conclusion was that women are behind as far as some of these public "rights" are concerned in the ME because of the passivity of the women themselves in the GCC and Saudi Arabia in particular, which as you know is the largest and most influential country in the region.

Sat May 27, 01:11:00 PM CDT  

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