05/18/2010, 00.00
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Activists in Kuwait call for women judges

A year after winning seats in parliament, Kuwaiti women prepare another battle for equality. At a symposium on women's rights, supporters say that neither Islam nor Kuwaiti law bar women from judicial appointment. A liberal lawmaker appeals to Kuwait’s emir and prime minister to act on the matter.
Kuwait City (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Kuwaiti activists and their supporters on Monday called for the appointment of women to the Gulf state's judiciary, stressing that neither Islam nor Kuwaiti law bar women from being appointed to the judiciary.

After winning the right to run for parliament, which led to Kuwait’s first elected female lawmakers in last year’s elections, women and their supporters are preparing for another battle for equality in this deeply Islamic country, where however other recognised religions can be practiced.

“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 event was jointly organised 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 first anniversary of four Kuwaiti women winning parliamentary seats, a first for this small but rich Gulf state.

"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.

Last month, the constitutional court rejected a lawsuit by a Kuwaiti female lawyer after she complained that her application for appointment in the public prosecution was rejected because of her gender.

So far, the conservative Muslim state has followed a strict interpretation of Islamic laws as defined by some religious scholars who claim that women are not allowed to become judges.

Women's rights activist and veteran lawyer Salma al-Ajmi has challenged that view, saying that the job of a judge is an entirely technical and professional matter as is clearly stated in Kuwaiti law.

Until 2005, only Kuwaiti men over 30 not in the armed forces could vote. Some 139,000 Kuwaitis were thus eligible voters; that represented 15 per cent of Kuwaiti nationals or 5 per cent of the total population. On 16 May of that year, parliament granted women the right to vote.

However, Kuwaiti citizenship is hard to get and most immigrants are excluded. At present, the overall electorate represents only 10 per cent of the country’s resident population.

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