The Battle of Women in a Man's World

A T H E N S, Greece, Jan. 17, 2001 -- For women in some of the world's staunchly Islamic countries, stonings still happen and they don't have the right to vote to effect change.

In Iran this week, the Supreme Court upheld a death sentence by stoning for a woman convicted of murdering her husband.

She will be buried up to her armpits and stoned, the Iranian news agency reported. However, a quirk of Islamic law says she can go free if she manages to escape while the stoning is taking place.

Fear of Dismemberment, Disenfranchisement

The death sentence by stoning is just one of a number of instances this week that illustrate the state of play for females living under the strict laws of Islam.

On Monday in Saudi Arabia, three people, including a mother and her daughter were beheaded in Saudi Arabia for murder. Decapitation for capital crimes such as murder and adultery in Saudi Arabia are routine.

Public amputations of fingers, hands and sometimes feet are performed in Iran, the Saudi kingdom and by the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan. Strict rules are also applied in Sudan.

Men also face harsh punishment under Sharia law in countries such as Saudia Arabia and Iran, but sentences delivered by the courts tend to be biased against women.

In Kuwait on Tuesday, amid 10th anniversary celebrations of the U.S.-led attack on Iraqi forces in Kuwait, the Constitutional Court rejected a new bid in a 40-year-old battle to give women the vote.

The plaintiff in the case was a male — Adnan Hussein al-Issa — who sued Kuwait's interior ministry for refusing to write the names of five women, including his own wife, into the parliamentary electoral rolls last year.

He said he had expected the verdict because conservative Islamists "control the government."

The Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) quoted Kuwait's chief justice as stating the decision, by an all-male, five-judge panel, was unanimous.

The same court, the highest in Kuwait, has thrown out four similar pleas filed by female activists who claimed Kuwait's electoral law barring female voting was discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Kuwait's supreme ruler, or emir, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, issued a decree in May 1999 granting women full political rights and his Cabinet approved the decree.

But in Kuwait's parliament a majority coalition of Muslim fundamentalists and tribal deputies rejected it.

A Campaign Intensifies

Kuwait is the only Gulf State monarchy with a freely elected parliament.

The first general elections were held in 1962, shortly after independence from Britain, although the rulers have twice suspended the parliament since.

After the last elections in July 1999, women raised the intensity of the campaign for voting rights.

Khawthar al-Jouan, a female lawyer who helped fight the latest case in court, told reporters in Kuwait: "We will continue the way we have started. Conditions may change. We will not be discouraged."

Meanwhile, in nearby Iran, a parliament led by reformists is cutting $28 million from the state television and radio budget because of coverage of a controversial conference in Berlin, Germany that led to prison terms of up to 10 years for those who attended, Iranian newspapers reported.

Coverage of the meeting enraged Iranian conservatives. It included speeches by liberal opponents of the regime in exile; a man who took off his clothes in protest — and a woman who danced with bare arms.

John Cooley is an Athens-based correspondent for ABCNEWS and covers the Middle East. Reuters contributed to this report.