Press Releases

    16 January 2004

    Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee Examines Report of Kuwait

    Expert Says Kuwait Is Sole Country Where Voting Rights Are Granted to Men Only

    NEW YORK, 15 January (UN Headquarters) --        A decree by the Emir in 1999 to grant Kuwaiti women the right to vote and be elected was defeated in the Parliament by a single vote, making Kuwait the only country where voting rights were granted to men only, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women heard today as it took up that country’s report.

    Introducing the report to the 23-member expert Committee, which monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Nabeela Abdulla Al-Mulla, who presents her credentials tomorrow as Permanent Representative of Kuwait to the United Nations and who made today’s presentation in the absence of the formal Kuwaiti delegation, said that, in overturning women’s right to vote, a democratic process had defeated a democratic practice.  She added, however, that the Government last month had announced its intention to grant women in Kuwait their full political rights.

    Citing the possibility that “hidden” discrimination was hindering Kuwaiti women, who had achieved a degree of cultural and educational success, experts wondered if that was the reason the women were not on equal terms with the men, especially when it came to their participation at decision-making levels in public and political life.

    The Committee expert from Algeria asked the Ambassador to carry a message from the Committee and from herself, a national of an Arab and Muslim country, that Kuwaiti women should be given the right to vote and, perhaps under a quota system, to hold seats in Parliament.  That male-driven taboo, which had no religious foundation whatsoever, must be broken.  The Ambassador was proof that it was possible to go beyond what was provided for in the laws and constitutions.

    Similarly stressing that it was critical for women to vote, the expert from Hungary urged everyone in the room to think creatively about how to convince the legislature.  It was no secret that a major concern of the men in Parliament was likely linked to the Koran and Islamic tradition.  Perhaps, grants could be given to feminist academics to research evolutionary interpretations of the Koran and convince the legislators that the Koran and women’s empowerment went hand in hand.

    Commending Kuwait for making clear its view of prostitution as a “social evil”, the same expert suggested that Kuwait might play a leading role in the region in shifting attitudes about prostitution and trafficking.  Prostitution, which depersonalized women as sexual objects, also contradicted Kuwait’s values, traditions and religion.  Addressing the demand side, by making customers aware that such practices were wrong, would go far towards eliminating such social ills.

    The expert from the Netherlands, noting that it was a unique characteristic of Kuwaiti society that the number of non-Kuwaitis exceeded the number of Kuwaitis, said that the protection of the rights of non-Kuwaitis, particularly women, became even more important.  He, along with several other experts, asked if non-Kuwaiti lawful residents of Kuwait were entitled to all of the rights enumerated in the Women’s Convention.  Related questions concerned the right of non-Kuwaiti children to education.

    Providing the Government’s preliminary response in advance the arrival of the Kuwaiti delegation during the current Committee session, Ms. Al-Mulla said that in some ways the status of women in Kuwait had progressed, and in others it had lagged behind.  She urged members to be realistic about States’ implementation of the Convention.  She took part in a lengthy discussion about women’s participation in the diplomatic corps and said there was no law preventing women from joining.  She agreed, however, that Kuwaiti women had not been very visible.

    Committee Chairperson Ayse Feride Acar (Turkey) thanked the delegation for its presentation and hoped the Committee would have the opportunity to engage in a constructive dialogue with expert members of the delegation when it replied to questions on Thursday, 22 January.

    Other members of the delegation present today were Nawaf Al-Enezi and Tareq Al-Banai.

    The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow to consider the combined initial, second and third reports of Bhutan.


    The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to consider the situation of women in Kuwait, reflected in that country’s combined initial and second periodic reports, dated 1 May 2003 (document CEDAW/C/KWT/1-2).

    The report consists of three parts.  Part I concerns land and population, general political structure, and publication.  Part II comprises general information on:  the legal, social economic and political framework within which the Government is tackling the issue of the elimination of discrimination against women; legal measures relating to implementation of the Convention; and means of redress available to women.  Part III is devoted to setting forth the constitutional and legal provisions and administrative measures relating to the Convention.

    The introduction to the report expresses the view that discrimination in any shape or form is an “abhorrent human practice eschewed by modern-day societies, which are striving to eliminate it in order to achieve the principles of equality and justice among human beings, without distinction”.  In Kuwait, this concept is a fundamental constituent of society and is embodied in the Constitution.  On that basis, Kuwait has endeavoured to ensure that its legislative acts are consistent with such notions and also affirm them.  At the same time, it has sought to ensure that the measures it adopted at the international level are compatible with those adopted at the national level.

    The report finds that women in Kuwait have acquired a prominent position, which is continuing to grow.  They are the foundation of the family, which is the nucleus of society, and have proved their competence and worth throughout history.  Given their positive role in building society, it is a position that they fully deserve.  Indeed, advancement of Kuwaiti women was calculated to coincide with Kuwait’s political, economic and social development, on the basis of their position and their essential part in society’s overall development.  Kuwait’s accession to the Convention on 2 April 1994 is “clear evidence of the importance which it attaches to women and an affirmation of women’s standing in society”. 

    Following an article-by-article approach, under article 5, which concerns the taking of all appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural patterns of men and women, with a view to eliminating gender-based prejudice, the report highlights the issue of violence in the family.  It recalls that the Personal Status Act contains guarantees needed to protect a wife against any violence against her from her husband.  Specifically, the Act contains provisions that prohibit domestic violence and provide for compensation, at the judge’s discretion, amounting to not more than half the dowry of a woman’s peers if she and her husband separate before their marriage is consummated or before they meet in true seclusion.  Also, a wife may not be coerced into obedience.

    On article 6, which calls on States parties to take all appropriate measures to suppress all forms of traffic in women and prostitution, the report says that the Government rejects all such practices since they represent a “modern form of slavery”.  Rape, for example, renders the perpetrator liable to the death penalty or life imprisonment.  Kuwait also has several institutional mechanisms through which women and girls are able to report acts of violence committed against them.  Sex tourism does not exist in Kuwait, nor is there any prostitution of juveniles.

    Regarding women’s travel, which is relevant to article 9 of the Convention, which covers the equal rights of women with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality, as well as the rights of their children, the report states that Kuwaiti women have the right to obtain their own passports.  Under article 15 of that Act, a husband’s prior consent is a prerequisite to enabling his wife to obtain a separate passport.  It stipulates that wife may not be granted a separate passport without her husband’s consent and that persons who are legally incompetent shall not be granted separate passports without the consent of their legal representatives.  At the holder’s request, a passport may, at the time of issuance, include the wife of the passport holder and any of his minor children, if they are accompanying him on his journey.

    In the area of health, the report says that care for mothers and children is part of the country’s primary health-care strategy.  As a result, the female death rate in Kuwait for 1998 was 958 per 12,590 live births.  This achievement is due to the outstanding services provided by the State through the specialist maternity hospital established in 1968, and the three gynaecological and obstetric wards in the governorate hospitals.  Maternity services are also offered in 25 health centres, which are staffed by 60 doctors, both male and female.  These centres work in cooperation and coordination with the gynaecological and obstetrics wards in the hospitals.

    On abortion, the law protects the right to life and punishes any person who violates that right, the report states.  Under the Kuwaiti Penal Code, abortion is consequently a punishable crime, which stipulates that “any woman who deliberately kills her newborn child in order to avoid dishonour is liable to a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment and/or a fine”.  Similarly, anyone who supplies or is instrumental in supplying a pregnant or non-pregnant woman with drugs or other harmful substances, without her consent, or who uses force or any other means in order to induce an abortion will be liable to a penalty of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, to which may be added a fine of up to 1,000 dinars.

    The report states that if the offender is a medical practitioner, pharmacist, midwife or person working in the auxiliary medical or pharmaceutical professions, the penalty will be a term of up to 15 years’ imprisonment, to which may be added a fine of up to 2,000 dinars.  Any woman who successfully induces an abortion will also be liable, as well as anyone who knowingly prepares, sells, offers for sale or in any way makes available substances used to induce an abortion.  An exception is made for any person with the necessary experience who induces an abortion “in the sincere belief that it is essential in order to preserve the life of the pregnant woman”.

    Responding to article 16 of the Convention, which urges States parties to take all appropriate measures concerning discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations, the report says that women in Kuwait have full freedom to choose their spouse.  Moreover, marriage does not affect the wife’s legal capacity or her financial assets, which remain separate from those of her husband.  Women have the right to seek a separation from their husbands on the ground of injury or absence, including if the husband is sentenced to a term of imprisonment.  Women have recourse to the courts, in order to seek a divorce “if it is impossible for the two to cohabit”.

    A Kuwaiti woman also has the right to seek a divorce if her husband fails to maintain her, has no apparent assets and has been proved insolvent, the report says.  In that case, the judge can grant the husband a period of time in which to pay maintenance and, if he fails to do so, his wife may seek a divorce.  In custody issues, the wife’s side of the family takes precedence over the father’s side.  Kuwaiti women are the first to have custody and men second, as mothers are the more rightful custodians of a minor, whether they are still married to the father or divorced, and are also more affectionate and more capable of taking on board the difficulties of bringing up children.

    Introduction of Report

    NABEELA ABDULLA AL-MULLA (Kuwait) said she expected to present her credentials to the Secretary-General as Permanent Representative tomorrow, so she was here by “default”.  Two experts from Kuwait had been unable to make the trip, owing to unforeseen circumstances.  So, she and her delegation would try to report to the Committee and answer its questions. 

    Kuwait acceded to the Convention on 2 April 1994, she said.  The combined reports highlighted the general legal, social, economic and political framework and the policy of the State to eliminate discrimination against women, as well as the constitutional and legislative provisions relating to the Convention’s articles.

    She said that some challenges remained in that regard, such as granting women full political rights.  To remedy that situation, the Emir, on 16 May 1999, by decree, granted women the right to vote and be elected in the National Assembly.  However, the National Assembly defeated that by a slim margin of “1”.  That democratic process defeated a democratic practice, but she hoped that would be rectified.  The Government last month announced its intention to grant women their full political rights.

    In Kuwait, a multitude of mechanisms had been created to guarantee women full enjoyment of their fundamental freedoms and rights, she went on.  Those included the higher centre for children and family, the cabinet women’s centre, maternal and child centre, and the division for family and women’s affairs.  In addition, several grass-roots movements were under way, which endeavoured to safeguard and promote women’s rights.

    According to several human development reports, she said that Kuwait remained in the category of high level of human development.  Infant mortality was nine per 1,000 births; maternal mortality was five per 100,000, and some 67 per cent of females had higher education.  In 1995, the illiteracy rate was at 11 per cent, and that was down from 50.5 per cent in 1980.  Women’s participation in the economy stood at 36 per cent, but that figure did not take into account the informal sector.  There might be shortcomings in the full implementation of all provisions of the Convention, but Kuwait was keen to go forward and achieve a better record in that regard.  Attaining that goal should take into account cultural nuances and the constitutional process.

    Of major concern at the national level were the prisoners of war, in light of Kuwait’s particular situation and historical circumstances, she said.  Kuwait’s delegation had tried during the fifty-eighth session to introduce a proposal on the treatment of female prisoners of war.  Unfortunately, that proposal had not seen the light.  It would try to bring that forward at the next session.  Kuwait had succeeded in discovering the remains in mass graveyards in Iraq of two prisoners of war –- one Kuwaiti and one Lebanese.  Still, two more remained unaccounted for.

    She said that national law devoted particular attention to female civil servants in special situations.  For example, caring for a sick child entitled the woman to leave with full pay, and a mother-wife of a captive missing person was granted one-year leave without pay with the possibility of an extension.

    Experts’ Comments and Responses

    AYSE FERIDE ACAR, Committee Chairperson and expert from Turkey, congratulated the delegation for presenting the initial and second combined periodic reports.  Kuwait had ratified the Convention in 1994, and it was an historic moment to review achievements that had taken place in Kuwait during that period.  As the Government had several significant reservations to the Convention, particularly to articles 7, 9 (2) and 16 (f), she underlined the existence of the clear political will on the part of the Emir to grant full political rights to women.  She urged the Government to withdraw the reservations to the article on women’s political citizenship as a signal and message of its commitment to the Convention’s implementation.  She urged the Government to consider the withdrawal of the other reservations, as well.

    HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILILNG, expert from Germany, welcomed the report, but reminded the delegation that it was late.  Stating that the report provided a good description of the legal situation in the country, she asked whether the report was discussed in public circles, particularly among non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

    On reservations to the Convention, she noted that while article 28 allowed for them, such reservations should not go against object and purpose of the Convention.  The Committee had provided guidelines on how to report on reservations, which requested the State party to inform the Committee on its political will to remove reservations, change national laws, and to provide a timetable to do that.  States parties were also required to report on the impact of the reservations.  The impact of article 7 was clear -- women were not allowed to vote.  What was the impact of the other reservations on women?   She asked whether Kuwait had entered similar reservations under other United Nations instruments on the similar articles.

    DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, the expert from Croatia, said the preparation of the report was extremely important to assess the situation in the country.  Who had prepared the report and what process had been followed?  The report explained that after the publication of the Convention in official gazette, it was considered a national law.  Was the Convention equal to other national laws?  If there were a contradiction between the provisions of the Convention and national law, which would prevail?  Was it possible to directly apply the Convention to national laws, and were there any such cases?

    FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, said the presentation was of great symbolic importance since it was known that the Kuwaiti Parliament would have before it a draft law allowing women political citizenship.  What was the knowledge in the country of the Convention?  Had it been broadly disseminated among NGOs?  She was surprised by the lack of NGO ties in the report.  Was the Convention a subject of conversation?  It was important for women to be aware of the Convention.

    FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, asked for clarification on the issue of non-Kuwaitis, as non-Kuwaitis actually exceeded the number of Kuwaitis in the country.  When the report mentioned Kuwaiti women and men, was it referring to Kuwaitis with Kuwaiti nationalities, non-Kuwaitis or Bedouins?

    KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, said the report and presentation had been an “eye-opening”.  Emphasizing the importance of information and visibility, she said that around the world, including among educated people in the West, women in Islamic countries were still seen as behind the veil, at home with fellow wives, responsible only for the family, subjected to violence, and so forth.  There was a false understanding that any society based on spirituality and religion could only be restrictive of human and women’s rights.  It was high time to understand that spirituality and human and women’s rights were not mutually exclusive.

    In that regard, she said it was very important to have more visibility around the world.  Kuwait was now represented by a woman at the level of head of delegation to the United Nations.  That should be further promoted; Kuwait should explain to the world that its traditions were not contradictory to women’s rights and that there could be results.  Of course, there were problems, including that the executive branch could not push the independent parliament to make certain decisions, as well as the absence of female judges or prosecutors.

    CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said that it was one of the unique characteristics of Kuwait society that the number of non-Kuwaitis exceeded the number of Kuwaitis.  Thus, the protection of the rights of non-Kuwaitis, particularly women, became more important.  Equal rights and obligations were granted to and imposed on Kuwaiti citizens, but were non-Kuwaiti lawful residents in Kuwait entitled to all of the rights enumerated in the Women’s Convention?

    FATIMA KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, asked how the report was written and whether NGOs had participated in the preparation.  As with most countries, Kuwait had taken constitutional and other measures to ensure women’s rights and to seek redress in cases of violation.  All too often, however, very sound provisions were elaborated, but those were purely cosmetic and were never put to the test by the people for whom they were enacted.

    She said that, according to the report, women whose constitutional rights had been violated could seek redress in administrative courts or in the misdemeanours and felonies court.  She asked whether there had been cases regarding women whose rights had been violated under the principle of equality and non-discrimination, and had they gone for redress?  Also, the report had said that the Convention was now part of Kuwaiti national law and was enforceable under the Constitution.  Since 1994, had there been any court cases where the Convention’s provisions had been cited or utilized, and how aware were Kuwaiti women of the Convention?

    GORAN MELANDER, expert from Sweden, asked whether women’s human rights were really an issue in Kuwait.  A serious discussion, including in the mass media, could have ensued when Parliament rejected the decree granting the women the right to vote.  There should have been “quite a fuss” about that.

    ROSARIO MANALO, expert from the Philippines, congratulated the Ambassador for being the first lady ambassador of the Kuwaiti diplomatic service.  She hoped that other Kuwaiti women would be similarly inspired.  Equality clauses, both in the Constitution and other statutes, were referred to in general terms with no specific references to women, only to “Kuwaiti people”, “fundamental constituents of Kuwait”, and so forth.  The language referred to everyone, and not specifically to women.  While there was nothing wrong with using equality clauses in general ways, it was preferred that specific references were made to women in laws and statutes.  Or, specific laws addressing the needs of women should be adopted.

    HEISOO SHIN, Vice-Chairperson and expert from the Republic of Korea, said that, in addition to the administrative courts, she asked for more information about the standing committee on human rights in the National Assembly.  She had been pleased to learn that that committee had been formed as early as 1962 to monitor government agencies and receive complaints.  Had there been any proposals to amend any laws concerning women’s rights, and what were those?  Also, had there been any monitoring of government activities regarding protection of women’s human rights, and had any woman submitted a complaint about her rights having been undermined?

    PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, noted that Kuwait had acceded to an impressive number of international instruments.  She was concerned about the application of the death penalty.  Were there women-specific cases when the death penalty had been applied?  How many women had been subject to the death penalty?  To what extent were women aware of their legal rights, and did they have access to justice in the form of legal aid assistance?  If so, what was the budget for that system?  Were non-Kuwaitis entitled to legal aid?

    Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked if the Government intended to ratify the Convention’s Optional Protocol and the amendment to article 21.  She wondered if a legal review of the country’s laws had been carried out since the accession to the Convention to see if those laws contained discriminatory provisions.  She did not understand the contradiction between the Constitution allowing equal rights in the public sphere and the electoral law not allowing women to vote.  She also wanted to know how Islamic legislation on personal status and the family was applied in Kuwait.

    MARIA YOLANDA FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, asked if Kuwaiti women were seen only as mothers and pillars of the family.  What values did society attribute to women?  The report mentioned that an integral plan had been established for the advancement of women.  When would that plan be prepared?  What was meant by the “family obligations” of women?  While the report mentioned specific goals for the advancement of women, no reference was made to the need to ensure respect for women’s social and political rights.  Reconciliation of couples was mentioned in connection with reducing the divorce rate.  Reconciliation was not always the proper course.

    NAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, congratulated the Ambassador on the assumption of her post.  It represented the political will on the part of the Government for the advancement of women.  Mechanisms to advance women’s rights were important, and she hoped the mechanisms established in Kuwait would do the job properly.  Non-governmental organizations should play an important role in reinforcing the position of women.  According to the report, there were only five women NGOs in Kuwait.  Through public opinion, special measures could be taken to advance women, for example, in the procedure for requesting passports.

    MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said that while there was nothing wrong in looking at women as mothers and wives, but they must not be exclusively seen in that light.  The training of women for productive work and employment was referred to as a way of preventing the break-up of the family, and not an essential right.  The reconciliation of work and family responsibilities only seemed to concern women.  Men should also be encouraged to attend to the demands of family life.

    AIDA GONZALEZ MARTINEZ, expert from Mexico, said the report did not give priority focus to improving the situation of women as individuals.  As most of the population was non-Kuwaiti, were programmes designed to address Kuwaiti women or did they guarantee development of non-Kuwaiti women, as well?  When ratifying the Convention, States parties agreed to implement the Convention for all women in the country.  She asked for data on what nationalities composed the non-Kuwaiti population.

    Concerning national machinery for women, HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said it was her understanding that the Government was following the Beijing Platform for Action, which gave women’s machinery high status with adequate funding.  She asked if the main body responsible for the advancement of women was the higher committee for children and family.  Did that body have a coordinating function or did it act alone?  She was puzzled that the name of the committee did not include the word “woman”.  She also asked how big the committee was, how often it meet and whether it included NGO representatives.

    Ms. MANALO, expert from the Philippines, asked how integrated and coordinated were the offices seeking to uphold women’s human rights.  Was there one focal point for coordination?  And, how was the work carried out in an integrated fashion, focusing on women’s needs and overall priorities? she asked.

    Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said she had the impression that there were many protective provisions for pregnant women and mothers in Kuwait, but that might put women into a category as being seen only in their function as mothers.  Had there ever been a review of those protective measures, which might no longer be right for a modern society?

    Regarding temporary special measures to accelerate the achievement of de facto equality, she asked whether there was anything in the Constitution that made clear that such measures would not be seen as discriminatory.  Had the topic ever been discussed with regard to employment in either the private or public sector?

    Ms. FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, said she could not see what specific plans existed to counteract stereotypes and cultural tradition.  One matter of concern was that, upon reading the report, there was an entire series of points that seemed to strengthen the traditional concepts of women’s essential role in the family.

    The report also stated that the Government was trying to encourage a change in awareness, but she said she had not really seen any specific action in that regard.  The Convention, itself, might play an important role.  Were there concrete plans for consciousness raising?  Also not clear had been how women were protected from violence in the family or in society, in general, or what punishments were contemplated for the perpetrators.

    Ms. GABR, expert from Egypt, agreed that raising awareness was very important and might be very simple.  For example, preparation of the period report could, itself, raise awareness and mobilize public opinion.  Did the Government intend, in its next report, to prepare a study of the difficulties impeding optimum application of the Convention?  Was there any intention to include references to it in educational materials?  The percentage of educated women in Kuwait was high.  Thus, positive results could be achieved.  She also asked about difficulties encountered in gaining work in the diplomatic sphere.

    Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, underscored that there was no information about provisions on domestic violence or violence against women, in general, but rather on divorce and separation.

    Ms. SAIGA, expert from Japan, said that there were contradictory statements in the report, such as the statement that women were not allowed in the diplomatic corps, but yet she was looking right at the woman ambassador.  Could the delegation clarify?

    Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, congratulated the delegation for making that clear that the State considered prostitution to be a “social evil”.  It did not call it a free choice of women, or commercial or sex work, “you call it what it is -- social evil”, she stressed.  She asked whether Kuwait could play a leading role in the region to ratify the relevant 1949 convention and whether there could be a Kuwait-led regional conference on cooperation in eliminating prostitution and trafficking and the underlying causes.

    She reiterated that very few countries today took such a clear stand against prostitution.  Was there an understanding of the demand side of prostitution, namely, to depersonalize women’s sexuality and to use women’s bodies as objects?  That was in fundamental contradiction to Kuwait’s values, traditions and religion.  Addressing the demand side, namely, men as customers or potential customers, by making them aware that that practice was wrong was a very important way towards elimination of those social ills, she said.

    Ms. MANALO, expert from the Philippines, asked what punishments existed under law to prevent or eliminate prostitution and trafficking of women.  There was a large presence of migrant domestic workers in the country, and she had received reports about their abuse.  Did Kuwaiti law punish slavery and forced labour, or incidences of physical abuse of domestic migrant workers? 

    Noting that the report said that a wife could not be coerced into obedience, she asked whether that also applied to marital rape and whether any punishment had been provided under law.  The penal code and private sector employment act seemed to be a general welfare and protective act for all working persons, but certain specifics applied to the harassment of women in the workplace.  She recommended a specific law on that.

    SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, said Kuwait was one of the remaining countries in the world in which women were not allowed to vote.  While women were denied political participation, they were able to hold high-ranking positions, such as the ambassador.  Kuwait’s Constitution mentioned equality and justice as the pillar of Kuwaiti society.  A number of efforts had been taken to establish the rights of women, all of which had failed.  Stereotypical attitudes were prevalent at the highest levels of politics in Kuwait.

    What was the Government really trying to do to ensure that the next bill did not meet the same fate?  Had the Convention been translated into Arabic and broadly disseminated?  When women had been denied, in February, the right to vote, several lawsuits had been filed, she said.  Those cases had been “ping-ponged” from one court to another, and finally overturned.  How did Kuwait’s electoral law hold a higher position than its Constitution?

    VICTORIA POPESCU SANDRU, expert from Romania, said the process of consideration of initial and periodic reports involved constructive dialogue.  It would have been important for delegates from the capital to have been involved in that dialogue.  Based on the information provided in the presentation, she hoped that in the near future the Committee would hear good news regarding the granting of electoral rights and the withdrawal of the reservation to article 7,   paragraph a.  There were some factors affecting the involvement of women in public life, including marital status.  Was there a preference among employers to hire unmarried women? 

    Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked about the number of women holding high administrative office.  He also requested information on the participation of women in the country’s judicial system.  The report did not contain a reference to political parties.  Were there political parties and was the Government encouraging political parties to do everything possible to achieve equal participation of men and women in political life?

    Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, said it was not surprising that the Committee was focusing on the political rights of women in Kuwait.  Kuwait was the last country in the world not to have provided political citizenship to women.  In France, women’s suffrage had been rejected 21 times in Parliament between 1919 and 1939.  She had numerous examples of Kuwaiti politicians objecting to the right of women to vote.  Indeed, one French politician had said that a ballot was not elegant in the hand of a woman.

    Given the high level of education of Kuwaiti women, there was a fundamental contradiction in Kuwaiti society between competent women and the men who decided on their civil rights, she said.  She would appreciate if the Committee’s concluding remarks could be broadly disseminated not only among NGOs but also among parliamentarians, so that they could see the extent to which the international community was vigilantly promoting the rights of Kuwaiti women.

    Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, sought additional information about a possible new five-year economic and social development plan.  Also important was how the Government was planning to reconcile the role of women in society as mothers, but also as important contributors to the workforce and to the country’s development efforts.

    Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, wished the country luck in reintroducing the law to allow women to vote.  The report stated that women had attained high-ranking posts and that promotions were handled without bias and regardless of gender, on the basis of efficiency.  But, few statistics were available on women’s participation in high-ranking posts in public life.  Why then, if there was no gender discrimination, and all promotions to high-level posts were made without any kind of discrimination, were women not really on equal terms?  Of course, she understood that there were cultural constraints, which took some time to overcome, but was there not some form of hidden discrimination -- some invisible hand, forbidding women to gain commensurate numbers? 

    MS. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, said it was critical for women to have the vote.  Everyone present should try to think together creatively about how to convince the legislature.  Perhaps, research could be done by the executive branch on comparative experiences of women gaining the vote in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries.  How had their parliamentarians been convinced? 

    There was no secret about it, she said.  Probably, a major concern of the males in Parliament was the Koran and Islamic tradition.  Again, there should be some encouragement and maybe even some grants given to feminist academics to research evolutionary interpretations of the Koran and convince the legislators that those could go hand in hand.  There should also be some informal lobbying.

    MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said she felt sorry for the Ambassador, who had been put in an extremely difficult position.  She might agree with the comments, but was not in a position to say so.  She admired her courage.  The floor should be taken now by a delegation, which should have come.  Nevertheless, her presence was the best evidence that women of Kuwait deserved to enjoy fully their rights.

    She said that Kuwait’s reservation to article 7 of the Convention, concerning political and public life, was not at all in keeping with the spirit or culture of the Koran in Kuwait.  Women in the past, at the very birth of Islam, had played a major political role, as had the two wives, first and last, of the prophet.  So, what man today could deny to a Muslim woman in a Muslim country her right to engage in politics, when that had been done at the very birth of Islam?  The Ambassador was the best proof that it was possible, through will, to go beyond what was provided for in the laws of the Constitution.  The struggle to grant women the right to vote in Kuwait dated back to 1999. 

    “We are conceived in the same way as men and should have the same rights as men”, she stressed.  If women in Kuwait had achieved a degree of cultural and educational success, they should also be in parliament.  She asked the Ambassador to send that message from the Committee and from herself, personally, as coming from an Arab and Muslim country, where there were quotas that allowed the head of State to appoint a quota of women to the national assembly.  That had been done in Morocco only a short time ago.  Through political will and a very clear message, there were 35 women with seats in the Moroccan parliament, and eight in the Algerian council.  That was a way of breaking that taboo created by men, which had no religious foundation, whatsoever.

    CHRISTINE KAPALATA, Committee Rapporteur and expert from the United Republic of Tanzania, said there seemed to be a disconnect between the conceptual understanding of women’s human rights and their access to those rights.  There seemed to be a patronizing attitude of men towards women.  The report said women had acquired a permanent position, which was continuing to grow, and that they had proved their competence and worth throughout history, and thus, fully deserved their position in society.  That made it sound as if women in Kuwait acquired their status by proving themselves.  That premise was wrong; women were equal individuals in society with men.

    She observed that the report had not been properly treated by the Government, and colleagues had commented on the rather odd situation in which the report said that women’s rights were guaranteed under the Constitution and domestic law, but those laws ruled out women’s participation in certain fields, such as military, army, police and the diplomatic corps.  Why?  And, why was there a woman ambassador here now?  Also, what was the Government or legislature doing to ensure women’s participation in the political sphere and diplomatic corps?

    Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, continuing to address women’s struggle to join the diplomatic corps, said that since the beginning of the nineteenth century, international women’s organizations, in which Muslim women had participated, had pressed to allow women as diplomats.  In 1919, the Convention of the League of Nations stated that women should participate at all levels in diplomacy, as had many resolutions of the United Nations on the participation of women in conflict resolution.  All of that had implied that women would participate in diplomacy to work in the interests, not only of women, but also of men and children.

    Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked whether it was true, as the report had stated, that work in the diplomatic corps was restricted to men alone.  If not, when was that rule changed and why?

    DORCAS AMA FERMA COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, noted that the report stated that Kuwaiti women had the right to obtain their own passports.  It went on to say that married Kuwaiti women could only obtain a passport with the prior consent of their husbands.  That was clear discrimination against the married Kuwaiti woman.  Did unmarried women have the right to obtain passports?

    Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, addressed the issue of the nationality law, which seemed to be flexible to some extent.  It seemed that men and women did not enjoy equal rights under the nationality law.  Did men and women have equal rights to obtain and transfer nationality to men and children?  Regarding the issue of passports, the requirement of consent undermined a woman’s legal capacity.  Did married women need the consent of men to take up employment, administer their property or go to court?  Did unmarried women require the consent of a father or brother? she asked.

    GORAN MELANDER, expert from Sweden, asked if non-Kuwaitis living in the country for a long time could become Kuwaiti citizens.

    Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said that while much progress had been made, the final step had not been taken.  The principle of blood prohibited a Kuwaiti woman from passing on her nationality to children if married to a foreign husband.  A legal review was needed, she believed, to check on apparent contradictions in Kuwait’s laws.  Discrepancies and contradictions under the law needed to be clarified.

    Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, also addressing the issue of nationality, noted that Kuwait applied the law of blood, as well as soil.  A child born in Kuwaiti territory might have Kuwaiti nationality.  However, a woman could not transmit Kuwaiti nationality by blood to her child automatically.  As there were many foreigners living in Kuwait, there must also be some marriages between Kuwaitis and foreigners.  She asked for statistics on the marriage rate between Kuwaitis and foreigners and the problem of status of children.

    Government Response

    NABEEELA ABDULLA AL-MULLA (Kuwait) said she felt taken aback by the thrust and details of the experts’ questions.  She had not read the report, she had to confess, as her duties in Vienna had to do with other matters.  All were aware that actual practices on the ground might be either well below or way ahead of the dictates of the Convention.  There were some contradictions, and she was also surprised.

    In some cases, they had moved ahead, in others they had lagged behind, she said.  That was the situation in all societies, even those that were very advanced.  For example, she did not see many women ambassadors from many regions that tried to instil the idea of gender equality.  Among the permanent Members at the United Nations, for example, she had met only two female ambassadors, and they were political appointees, not career ambassadors.  She was not trying to exonerate Kuwait, but one had to be realistic in the way States were urged to implement the Convention.

    Regarding Kuwait’s diplomatic service, she said there was no law to prevent women from joining the diplomatic corp.  In Vienna, her assistant had been a young woman, and in Geneva, the legal counsel to the Mission was also a lady. Concerning women in military and police service, Kuwait had been enlisting women into the police force.  She agreed that Kuwaiti women had not been very visible, and she hoped that more NGOs would be able to participate in the advancement of women.

    Experts’ Comments, Questions

    Concerning the issue of education, Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, noted that all Kuwaitis had the right to education.  What was the situation of compulsory education for non-Kuwaiti residents?  The number of non-Kuwaitis enrolled in schools was far below the number of Kuwaitis.  What were the reasons behind that?

    Ms. SAIGA, expert from Japan, wondered how textbooks portrayed women and men.

    Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said that while the number of women enrolled in education was impressive, there was a large discrepancy between the number of male and female teachers.  Women comprised the majority of students in all areas except one, whereas men comprised the majority of teachers.  Obstacles must exist for women reaching higher level posts.

    Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked if co-education existed in Kuwait.  Where did female teachers teach, and were they able to teach boys?  Many male Kuwaiti nationals studied abroad, however, in which case the data in the report might be misleading.

    Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, asked about co-education at the primary and secondary education levels, including the involvement of women in athletic activities.  She asked for statistics on the number of women participating in international athletic competitions.

    SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, noting that the family was important for human development, said the Convention prescribed responsibility to both parents for providing for the family.  As the family was the most important unit for human development, parents must be able to reconcile work and family responsibilities. Regarding women migrant workers, Kuwait employed many, particularly women.  Did the Government have laws on the protection of migrant workers?  Regarding the private sector employment act, which prohibited night-time employment, what was the reason for preventing women from working at night?  What were the conditions for employing women?

    Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked for additional information on whether migrant workers were protected under the private sector employment act.  She also noted a need to harmonize employment benefits under the private and civil sectors.

    Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, wondered what the unemployment rate was among women.  On the wage structure, was the principle of equal pay for work of equal value applied?  From independent information, the situation of domestic migrant workers in Kuwait was critical.  They did not receive adequate wages and were often harassed.  She asked for more information on their situation. 

    Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said the fact that the Government had ratified article 11 of the Convention without reservation was commendable.  While the report provided a wealth of information on the number of women in education, more statistics were needed on the situation of women in the labour force. 

    Ms. PROPESCU SANDRU, Vice-Chairperson and expert from Romania, said there was no clear mention in the report of equal access to health.  Was there any provision stipulating equal access for men and women to health and medical services?  What was the situation of non-Kuwaiti women in comparison to Kuwaiti women in terms of such access?  She also sought data on the most common diseases affecting women, as well as statistics about the number of sick persons, including in comparison to sick men.  She commended the setting up of a national committee on HIV/AIDS and the launching of a series of programmes in that area, but no statistics had been provided on the number of cases and the difference between men and women in that regard.

    HAGUETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, said the report seemed to avoid the facts, as well as the gap between laws and implementation.  Specifically, she asked about the allowable marriage age for men and women in connection with their legal capacities.

    Ms. KAPALATA, Rapporteur and expert from the United Republic of Tanzania, asked for disaggregated data in terms of court cases.  In cases of divorce, a waiting period was required of a woman before she could remarry.  Was that the same for men?  If not, why not? 

    Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, noticed in the report that age of marriage for girls was 15 and for men, it was 17.  Did that mean that, for females, if they married earlier they had legal capacity, just as the age of legal capacity for males was 17?  Also, was divorce available to both men and women on the same grounds, and did married women have equal right to manage property acquired during the marriage?

    Ms. GNACADJA, expert from Benin, said it seemed that a girl was in limbo until the age of 21, so even if she married, she could not exercise her rights until she was 21, whereas that did not seem to be the case for men.  She sought clarification.

    Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said that the previous speakers had made clear that there was some confusion about marriage.  She asked the delegation to identify any differentiated rules between men and women regarding marriage rights, guardianship and custody of the children, and inheritance.  She also asked why the Government had submitted a reservation to article 16 f, concerning guardianship and custody, and whether it was possible to withdraw it.

    On violence against women, she drew the delegation’s attention to general recommendation 19, which spelled out in detail the Committee’s views on violence against women.  Was there any punishment for a violent husband? she asked.  The report had not provided any information about that.

    Ms. GONZALEZ, expert from Mexico, expressed concern about the adequate application of the provisions of articles 15 and 16, which concerned, respectively, marriage and family life and equal access under the law. There was insistence throughout the report that, under those two articles, women had a number of rights and obligations, and that matrimony did not affect the status of women or of their goods, and that they had the right to divorce.  How equal were the rights of women under the law and did they enjoy equal protection?

    Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, said it was obvious that there was an emphasis on education in Kuwait.  Early marriages were serious obstacles to education and the Government’s priority on education for both men and women.  In that regard, it was important to raise the marriage age to 18 years for both sexes.  Were there any positive programmes for promoting men’s involvement in child-rearing and family life? 

    The protection of mothers and children was an important notion that was often misinterpreted, she said.  Based on the moral and spiritual foundations of Kuwaiti society, were mothers and children protected from the evil of poverty?  Women could live in deep poverty, even in very wealthy countries.

    Government Response

    Responding to experts, NAWAF AL-ENEZI (Kuwait) said all the Committee’s observations were legitimate and would be conveyed to the capital.  As it was an initial report, certain matters could have been dealt with in a better way.  When replies to the many questions were submitted next week, he hoped to receive the Committees’ support and satisfaction.

    Committee Chairperson’s Comments

    Ms. ACAR, the Committee’s Chairperson, thanked the delegation for presenting Kuwait’s report.  It had generated a good deal of interest, and the Committee looked forward to hearing Kuwait’s responses next week.  She hoped the Committee would have the opportunity to engage in a constructive dialogue with expert members of the delegation at that time.  For the time being, she congratulated the delegation on the presentation of its report.

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