North-South Centre - European Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity

Mr. President, Cavaco-Silva,
The. President of the Assembly of the Republic,
The President of the European Commission,
The Secretary General of the Council of Europe,
The President of the North-South Center’s Executive Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before I start my speech, I would like to thank you all for support in liberating my country, Kuwait, almost 20 years ago and enabling me to stand in front of you tonight.

Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with much emotion and gratitude that I am standing here to receive the North-South Prize of the Council of Europe, which bears elevated connotations for the safeguard of human rights, women empowerment, and the defense of democracy.

The substance of human rights has evolved tremendously with time; nowadays it extends to goals that were a far fetch twenty years ago. During my early years as a women rights activist, our quest for gender equality in a male-dominated society was frowned upon as a utopist claim.

In these early years, women in Kuwait were unable to exercise most of their human rights or master their own destiny, much less having a say in shaping the direction of their country. The same condition was faced by women in most parts of the Arab world.

Myself along with many other male and female colleagues, went through years of unwavering activism aimed at empowering women in Kuwait and other parts of the Arab region from the discriminatory barriers created by collective misconception of women’s role in society, and the deliberate misinterpretation of religious tenets resulting in male guardianship.

A major focus of our interest was also for a more genuine democratic process which would grant women the right to exercise their political rights by voting and being elected as members of parliament. Our task was arduous, but mostly thorny, as in the early year of our action it was somehow unthinkable, proscribed or simply bordering on illegality.

In those days, we were terrorized psychologically as being traitors, agent of the west, anti-religion, and destroyer of family values. However, despite all the character assassination that was practiced on us, we were determined to change the status quo, to be the voice of the silent majority who aspire for better future, to defend the right of young girl who has no voice, to bring hope to mothers who are concerned about the fate of their daughters, and to change the social discriminatory mind-set against women.

Nowadays, it pleases me to mention that Kuwait has made major advances in women's rights. Strange, and absurd laws, such as that which required women to obtain their father's or husband’s permission to get a passport and travel have been recently overturned. We, women of Kuwait have won the right to vote in 2005; furthermore, the country's first four female parliamentarians were elected in 2009, making women represent 8% of the parliament members. Large strides were achieved in narrowing gender discrimination regarding the government’s welfare program. Our experience has started to be taken as an example by neighboring Gulf countries.

As a Member of Parliament, and a Kuwaiti eager to bring her country to the highest levels in terms of human rights, we have succeeded, myself and other Kuwaiti parliamentarians, in promulgating a new labor law that safeguards the rights of both nationals and expatriates in the private sector.

Yet, the road to achieving our purposes remains long, and the battle continues. We do still have to confront issues which to most, if not to all of you, would sound like non-issues, such as the ongoing argument about whether women is allowed or should be prohibited from playing sports. Furthermore, to date, women have no presence in the judiciary body in Kuwait. The last communication I received before getting on my way to you was from a young Kuwaiti female lawyer, shrooq, first of her class, aspiring to the position of an attorney general on an equal footing with her graduate peers, telling me I am a good citizen and possesses the required credentials, why I cannot be an attorney general…
Friends…let me tell you…
We will be pushing for women empowerment in that particular area, again engaging in a new struggle for civil equity and true democracy. As I believe that divided rights are no rights and shrooq dream must be recognized and achieved.

Mr. President, Ladies and gentlemen
These are not ordinary times for the MENA countries. These are unprecedented times for a start of a true democratic process with no gender discrimination and safeguard of human right. We need to capture the wind of hope and positive change that replaces enclosure with modernity, ignorance with knowledge, radicalism with tolerance, and terrorism with dialogue.
Our region, as you all know, is bestowed with human wealth, where about 50% of population is under the age of 18. With this human wealth comes additional challenge, where we need to ensure that our youth population is the beneficiary of Wind of Hope and not hijacked by the Wind of Terrorism.
These challenges demand the efforts from all of us, citizens of the MENA region, governments, parliaments, private sector and civil societies, to rise to the occasion. It also requires real collaboration, interaction and support of international organizations like the Council.
We need to re-strategize our plans, build in our commonalities to understand our differences to advance our societies, and not let our differences dictates our policies and the path of our future. It is with our true understanding and respect to each other identity and culture, we can face up to the challenges confronting our world and advance human rights of individuals and move towards a more pluralistic and democratic societies.
Mr. President, Friends
We need to work closely together, we cannot afford not to confront our challenges, we cannot afford to lose the battle of Wind of Hope, the stakes are high and we owe it to our citizens and world humanity to live in peace, dignity and prosperity.
In closing, whilst I wish to express my appreciation for the great honor you have bestowed on me today, I would like to note that receiving this award from the Council of Europe is an additional incentive and an added motivation in the pursuit of the strenuous task lying ahead of us.
Thank you all.