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Kuwaiti Women a Step Closer to Vote - 2004-05-16


The issue of voting rights for women in Kuwait is heading for a vote in the emirate's parliament now that Kuwait's cabinet has given its approval to the proposed legislation. For more than 40 years Kuwaiti women have been fighting for the right to vote. That effort moved closer to becoming a reality when Kuwait's cabinet approved draft legislation giving women voting rights and the right to run as candidates in parliamentary elections.

The draft law will be handed over to the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who is expected to submit the proposed legislation to parliament.

In 1999, conservative and fundamentalist members defeated a similar measure.

The head of Egypt's National Council for Women, Saneeya Saleh, says while giving women the right to vote in Kuwait should have a positive political effect in the emirate, she does not believe the same is necessarily true in the rest of the Arab world.

"It will affect only the places where women are educated," said Ms. Saleh. "But, if they do not have enough educated women it will not affect them. Education is very important. I know Kuwait has many educated women."

About 70 percent of college graduates in Kuwait are women. But only a small percentage are employed in key, decision-making professions.

President Bush has urged Arab countries to institute more democratic reforms, and the Arab League foreign ministers adopted a pro-reform resolution a week ago, which is expected to be endorsed at the organization's summit later this month. But many Arab leaders say the West should allow reform in Arab countries to be developed from within, and to proceed at each country's own pace.

Egyptian women's rights activist Saneeya Saleh says allowing women into the political process will have a significant effect on policy in the Middle East, and could contribute to creating a more peaceful region.

"If you give women more rights they will take good care of the country ," she said. "Women are more peaceful. I think women are wise. I am wise. And, I believe a woman, a mother, would never like her children to fight. Women will not fight. They would never like their children to fight or die. Women are not as violent as a man."

Other Gulf states, including Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain, have begun liberalizing by allowing women greater access to their political systems .

Senior officials in Kuwait have said they are committed to making political reform a top priority.

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