KUWAIT CITY: Kuwaiti activists and their supporters on Monday called for the appointment of women to the Gulf state’s judiciary, from which they are still barred despite winning political rights.
"There is no legal barrier in Kuwait’s law and constitution that prevents women from becoming judges," Omar Al-Issa, head of the Kuwait Bar Association, told a symposium on women’s rights.
The symposium was jointly organized by the Kuwait Bar Association and the American Bar Association, and was attended by women judges and attorneys from Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Netherlands and the United States.
It coincides with the one-year anniversary of four Kuwaiti women winning parliamentary seats for the first time in the small Gulf state.
"We told the prime minister about the issue and he believed it’s only a matter of time before Kuwaiti women become members of the judiciary," Issa said.
"All we need for this matter in Kuwait is a political decision. We appeal to the emir and the prime minister to directly appoint women as judges," liberal MP Ali Al-Rashed told the symposium.
He stressed that neither Islam nor Kuwait’s law bar women from being appointed in the judiciary.
Last month, the constitutional court rejected a lawsuit by a Kuwaiti female lawyer complaining her application for appointment in the public prosecution was rejected because of her gender.
Kuwait University law professor Mohammed Al-Fili said he believed that verdict was wrong as it violated Kuwaiti law articles that explicitly stipulate gender equality.
The conservative Muslim state adopts a strict interpretation of Islamic laws by some religious scholars who say women are forbidden to become judges.
Women’s rights activist and veteran lawyer Salma Al-Ajmi, however, challenged that the job of a judge is an entirely technical and professional issue as is clearly stated in Kuwaiti law.
"What we are facing is a political barrier. Kuwait is the only country in the globe — if we exclude Saudi Arabia which has its social barriers — that deprives women from becoming judges," she said.
"I am ashamed to say so," said Ajmi, adding appeals have been sent to the ruler to appoint women in the judiciary, recalling that the Gulf states of Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates all have women judges.
Based on the latest available official data, Kuwaiti women employees accounted for 44.9 percent of the total national workforce. They made up 44.1 percent of Kuwaitis employed in government.
There is only one female minister in the 16-member Kuwaiti cabinet.
Kuwaiti women also face discrimination under the emirate’s nationality law. They are not allowed to pass citizenship on to their children or foreign husbands, unlike men.
They also do not have the same housing privileges as men and do not receive allowances for their children.
Parliament is to debate later this month several draft laws stipulating better social and civil rights for women.