Saturday, June 25, 2005

Pah! Kuwait's First Woman Cabinet Member Takes Office

Kuwait's First Woman Cabinet Member Takes Office

KUWAIT CITY (June 20) - Kuwait's first female Cabinet member took the oath of office in parliament Monday over the shouts of Muslim fundamentalist and tribal lawmakers opposed to women's participation in politics.
The parliament floor was in uproar as conservatives stood and cried out that Massouma al-Mubarak's appointment was unconstitutional because she was not a registered voter. Liberal lawmakers then stood as well, shouting back, "Congratulations."

Amid the din, al-Mubarak - dressed in a pinstriped dark blue pantsuit, and an Islamic veil that covered her hair - rose from her seat in the front row and read the oath from a paper seemingly unaffected by the screaming match.

The U.S.-educated political science teacher was named as minister of planning and administrative development June 12, a month after Kuwait's parliament gave women the right to vote and participate in politics for the first time.

By law, Cabinet ministers become members of the legislature with the right to vote on most issues.

Dressed in a pinstriped dark blue pantsuit, and an Islamic veil that covered her hair, al-Mubarak described the event as a "great day for all Kuwaiti women." She said she was willing to "cooperate with all lawmakers" in the interest of her country.

Tribal representatives and fundamentalists, who believe women should not mix freely with men and should stay at home to take care of their families, repeatedly blocked the legislation giving women voting rights until it was finally passed,

And they've made it clear they oppose al-Mubarak's appointment, saying her appointment was unconstitutional because she does not satisfy one of the conditions for becoming a minister, which is being an "eligible voter." She was unable to register in the annual registration period, in February, because the suffrage bill had not yet been passed.

"If she is not registered, she is not a voter," lawmaker Deiffallah Bou Ramia shouted during the oath-taking. Bou Ramia earlier collected 10 signatures of fellow lawmakers to discuss the minister's appointment in the house, a step that could lead to raising the matter to the Constitutional Court.

The Cabinet and pro-women's rights members of the house counter that registration is not a requirement for being an "eligible voter."

"Tell me, is Sheik Nawwaf (Al Sabah, the interior minister) registered?" roared liberal legislator Mohammed al-Saqer. "You just want to wage war!"

The prime minister, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, who walked into the chamber in the middle of the heated exchange said: "I would like to tell you that I am not registered, if there is a law against this, then we (unregistered Cabinet members) will all have to walk out of this parliament."

Kuwaiti women have reached high positions in oil, education and the diplomatic corps, but they were until recently kept out of politics because of the now amended election law of 1962 that limited political rights to men.

Conservative members of the house accused the speaker, Jassem al-Kharafi, of siding with the pro-women's rights lawmakers by trying to prevent them from speaking out. They all managed to speak, however, mostly out of turn.

Al-Kharafi said the request from the 10 lawmakers to deliberate al-Mubarak's appointment will be on parliament's agenda next Monday.

Sheik Sabah told reporters the legislators have the right to attempt to take their case to the Constitutional Court, but what is done is done.

"She took the oath and she is staying," he said.

06-20-05 11:30 EDT