Politics: Suffrage: Past and Present

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Suffrage: Past and Present

Specific histories of suffrage then and now differ greatly, and the uneven path to women's right to vote is indicative of each nation's cultural and political landscape. Recent struggles such as those in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia emerged from a contemporary context with regards to political opportunity structures, justifications (or framing), and strategic organization (or resource mobilization).

Using these frameworks for analysis, how would you compare the most recent suffrage struggles in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia with those of past struggles?

Suffrage Past/Present

Over the recent years, there has been significant struggle in regards to women’s suffrage in both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Although the ultimate goal remains the same, (Women’s suffrage and involvement in government) resource mobilization in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia greatly differs from that of U.S. women’s.

In June of 2006, women were granted the right to vote and run for election within the country of Kuwait. Both men and woman have a history of being inactive in politics from within the country, which many believe is a result of, “Kuwait being an oil-rich welfare state, which showers their citizens with benefits”. This in part contributed to Kuwait’s weak resource mobilization, and as a result gave power to Islamists who frowned upon the idea of Kuwaiti women being able to vote.

Weak resource mobilization has also been readily apparent in Saudi Arabia where, “women own nearly 70 percent of bank accounts and 20 percent of private companies in the Kingdom” (Women Without Vote). The ability to raise funds, develop tactical strategies and recruit those with high skill levels in leadership, are all successful tactics for social movements that neither Kuwaiti nor Saudi Arabian women have adopted.

It seems that the women in these countries have done very little to organize and invoke political change. Even when given the chance to vote as demonstrated in Kuwait, “they chose to vote for the veteran male Islamists who ironically, are well-known for their outspoken opposition to women’s political participation” (Kuwaiti Women’s 1st Election Day). The women of Kuwait were given the opportunity to empower female political leaders who would work to create significant political change in regards to women’s rights; sadly, the Islamist extremists still remain in power.

This does not parallel the work of U.S. women, who gained experience “through participating in other movements and drew from financial resources of other progressive organizations” (Paxton/Hughes 34). The fact that U.S. women participated in the prohibition, abolitionist and suffrage movements, demonstrates the strong resource mobilization skills and overall drive these women had to obtain the right to vote.

If the women of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia had the same drive and resource mobilization skills as U.S. women, women’s suffrage could have been already been obtained in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait long ago.

Masum Momaya, Curator
Masum Momaya, Curator
United States

Conditions for Organizing?

It make sense that a culture of participation and engagement is necessary to take advantage of suffrage and other rights. So, what are the conditions which promote and support organizing? And is separation of religion from politics one of these conditions? What if religion, as was true in Fascist Spain and is true in modern day Lebanon (see stories from July) is a catalyzing force for political participation?

Luca Jasko
United States

If we look back to the historical periods of the sufragette movements, we see that the original voice of the first sufragettes were very loud. They had a faith, strong belief that the right to vote in political fields would give them equal treatment and the justice would be explored. They have even expanded their voice towards radicalism. This means that they wanted to convince desperately the so called men-society. These radical events were for example in Brittan in the early 1900s some of the sufragettes were jumped under the running horses in an open derby-race, some of them have exploded the weekend-house of the than present prime minister (Lloyd George).

On the other hand if we jump forward in time to the present we have to see that those societies of those countries which have not given the right of vote to women or just have given recently are inactive politically. I agree with Michael that this is a crucial characteristic of these societies and therefore a social movement such as a right of vote for women can be processed differently. And as a consequence the mobilization of resources, frames and political opportunities mean something else than it is recognized in the early sufragette (social) movement mainly in the USA and in Brittan.

In Kuwait and in Saudi Arabia the women society has to be convinced that the right of vote is important, good for them and the whole society. It is exactly the opposite to the above mentioned early suragette situation. The convincement and convincing voices are naturally not coming from the men-society of these countries but from outside mostly of the society. In Kuwait and in Saudi Arabia the women are recognized as the part of the economy as Michael has mentioned, quoted as well (workplaces, companies, properties etc.), so these women has to see the point of the convincing voice that the right of vote would really make a difference, change not from economical point of view.

In summary I would like to emphasize that beside the difference of the mobilization skills and political activity (as michael mentioned) the other interesting as important difference is radicalism and the direction of convincing.

Amanda Silva
United States

Kuwait, Islam and the United States

I understand the point that Chenoa is making, about countries not being educated about the democratic way of participating in elections. But I must ask, why would anyone want the right to vote if they have not been educated about the process? What I realized, is that women in the United States took the initiative to learn about the process and, as we all hope, made an educated decision whether it be religious or politically based. We cannot use the excuse of citizens not understanding the system for their lack of judgment.

I realized there are some similarities between Islam and the United States, in regards to women's suffrage. As stated in the article, "Islam and Women's Suffrage," "they have argued that this hadith does not deny women the right to vote." Women in the United States also challenged legal documents because they too did not exclude the right to vote to women, but to persons who were not landowners. In this situation, particularly in the West, women who owned property were perceived as "more justifiable for women to participate in the government (41)." This might have been because women showed a sense of holding their own and contributing to society in a big way at the time.

It seems as though Kuwait and the United States have opposing reasons for refusing women's suffrage. In, "Women's Rights in Kuwait," it states that "men and women, were 'quiescent and inactive' about politics mainly because Kuwait, an oil-rich welfare state, showers them with benefits." Women in the United States were not as fortunate and the women in Kuwait. Most did not have jobs nor were they receiving a great amount of government money to support their way of life. From this article, it seems as though women receiving the right to vote was not as much of an accomplishment. It is a way to participate in the way the government is run, but it does not seem as though they would have much of an impact; women in Kuwait had more rights before they received the right to vote than Islamic women and women from the United States. How will their vote change their nation to recognize women as equals?

Brendan Blakewell
Brendan Blakewell
United States

Utilizing History

I think Paxton and Hughes of "Women, Politics, and Power" would agree that women in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia had limited abilitiy to organize for their movements. While rich women in these states may have had access to funding, I don’t believe they had the opportunity to gain the other recources for a successful mobilization structure.

Paxton and Hughes articulate that success for women has also been because of “ties to other social movements” and also just having recognizable “movement actors” to further facilitate mobilization. Women in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia had basically been entirely completely shut out of political activity, unlike U.S. women’s role in other movements outside of suffrage such as what we discussed in class (like abolitionism and the progressive movement).

I think we all have touched on the religious and political framing that contributed to why women have been politically oppressed in these states. The Kuwait article explains that Islamic principles have justified the view that women should not be involved in politics. Paxton and Houghs would find this a legitimizing effort to undermine suffrage by uniting people with framing processes. Even though it was in opposition, it’s a reminder that this really is a successful tool to mobilize people by framing for good or bad.

For me the wider context is that now women are getting more opportunities in these states whether or not its at the level of progress I might wish. Women’s voices should carry the same weight as men’s. Period. Comparing the struggles of women in different oppressed positions is rough, and for me unfair to judge. But its clear to me the path for suffrage today will be strengthened by utilizing successful social movement tools that Paxton and Houghes have outlined from suffrage movements in history.

Gretchen Dew
United States

I think that everyone has made good points looking at the differences between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and the U.S. suffrage movements. I want to bring up something that struck me when reading these stories and the Paxton and Hughes. This is the role of women as mothers and housewives. Although in both articles they pointed out women in the work force are increasing, their primary role remains in the house. As was the situation of the women of the U.S. when it went through the suffrage movement.

The fear in giving women the power to vote is a fear of messing with this system. It was expressed in both the book and the articles that men, and women, fear it would disturb the "order" of men and women's roles publicly, but more importantly, privately. I think this fear drives a lot of the underlying reasons men, and women, don't want to give women the right to vote.

But it also poses, for me, a question. In socities where women are so oppressed and their voices are not held equal, would trying to gain the vote under an expediency frame rather than a justice frame work better? It does obviously seem unfair, but I just wonder if it might be more successful. If the opposition was able to look at women's votes and women in government as unique voices and ideas about the home etc, perhaps they would not feel as threatened.

Paxton and Hughes point out that the less radical movements were the more successful and that "expediency frames were used more frequently as time marched on, and more often led to movement success (Paxton and Hughes, 42)." I know it doesn't begin to solve the many issues of repression of these women, but it may be a step instead of a leap, they can get their heads around.

Women in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

I kind of disagree with what Michael have said about women in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in terms of being looked down by a certain group or people, even though they are smart.

The thing that most of the people don't understand is that women themselves, or lets say a great number of them were not actually thinking that they are under oppression or something like this. And what backs this up is actually the fact that most of them in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are properties owners, bussiness women, and very educated.

In Kuwait, it is very young democracy that started in the early 60's and it has to be given some time to grow and again those who voted against the women to vote were not Islamists more than the trible ones.

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