Digital means and devices
Women’s associations, with their well-known structures and list of permits which they need in order to function, are no longer necessary to demand and defend women’s rights. In the digital world, a woman’s voice can be heard across the world at the touch of a screen. This has enabled Gulf women to gain support from around the globe.
Moreover, it has also allowed women to summarise their concerns with hashtags that can be unleashed across the web, such as: #HerRight for women in Bahrain, #MyRightMyDignity in Saudi Arabia, #SheHasNoSubstitute and #RightsOfQatariWomen in Qatar.
In Kuwait, the hashtag #CampaignToAnnulArticle153 was launched (under the terms of this law, a man who carries out an honour killing of his wife or daughter can be pardoned). Another Kuwaiti hashtag of note was #RefugeForAbusedWomen.
Huda Alsahi, a Bahraini student with an interest in women’s issues in the Gulf who is working on her PhD in Italy, notes: "The web provides a unique space for women, where they can re-define patriarchal roles by looking again at social culture. The web also gives an opportunity to step up political action through signing petitions, donations, advertising and the circulation of information about local and international causes, all from a personal computer at home."
Rights already secured and demands in progress
Women’s demands are similar across the six GCC states, yet there are differences in the way they are handled and in the means and organisations available to the campaigns in each country. Most of the demands focus on achieving full citizenship rights for women, and no more. Meanwhile, in each country the feminist movement is engaged in particular issues which they see of importance and as having a major impact on the quality of life for local women.
Among the most important gains won by the women’s movement are political rights. Women gained the right to vote and to stand in elections for the Shura Council in Oman in 1994, and in municipal elections in Qatar in 1998. In Saudi Arabia, women gained the right to stand and vote in municipal elections in 2015. As for parliamentary representation, Bahrain was the first state in the Gulf to give women the right to stand and vote in elections in 2002. Kuwait followed in its parliamentary elections in 2005.
Whilst Family Law is the priority for women activists across the Gulf, demands to introduce such legislation or amend existing laws have been greatest in Bahrain and Kuwait. In the case of Bahrain, we can trace these demands back to 1982, when the Committee for Personal Status Law was formed from members of the women’s associations.
Urgent demands continued until the Sunni Family Law was passed in 2009. Eight years later, the Jaafari (Shia) Family Law came into force. Subsequently, agreement was reached on a unified family law that aims to give women greater protection in matters relating to marriage, custody of children, inheritance and divorce.
Bahraini Nadia Al Maskati points out that "the law needs further development to protect women’s interests." Kuwaiti Fajer Al Khalifa makes similar points about the need to improve the Kuwaiti Code of Personal Status.
The right of a mother to give nationality to her husband and children continues to attract the attention of activists in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE and Oman, but there are differences in the extent to which they are willing to push their demands and to persevere with the authorities.