Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Women Win the Vote in Kuwait

In a vote that appears to have surprised even themselves, the Kuwaiti Parliament yesterday approved a bill to grant women the vote and the right to stand for office. Women will be eligible to be candidates in the 2007 parliamentary elections. Admittedly, the range of issues subject to democratic review in Kuwait remains narrow and tightly controlled by the royal family, but this is nonetheless a sea change -- and one that won't go unnoticed next door in Saudi Arabia, one of the few countries left that denies women the vote. (See this list compiled by a New Zealand news organization.) Congratulations to all the women's rights activists in Kuwait for this hard won and important victory. Of course, the Islamist leaders who opposed women's suffrage are already claiming that the Kuwaiti government gave in to pressure from outside countries.

My Mizzou faculty colleague (and former AALS President) Dale Whitman recently returned from his second visit to Kuwait this year as part of an ABA site team at the University of Kuwait Law School. (Yes, it turns out the stamp of approval from the ABA has currency overseas.) He shared with me his view that Kuwait has all the right ingredients in place -- most notably lots of money -- for strenghtening of the rule of law and democratic governance. And it seems to be taking steps in the right direction. More broadly, training lawyers -- male and female -- will continue to be an important element in successful democratization in the Middle East, and Kuwait is taking that charge seriously. Here is a link to the law school.