Sunday, May 16, 1999 Published at 21:53 GMT 22:53 UK
World: Middle East
Kuwaiti women given vote
Kuwaiti women hold both liberated and traditional roles in society
Women in Kuwait are to be given the vote and will have the right to run for parliament - but not in time for elections in July.
The order by Kuwait's Emir Sheik Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah was approved by the Kuwaiti Cabinet on Sunday.
Activists were delighted at the unexpected development - they have been lobbying for votes for women for several decades.
Kuwaiti women, seen as the most liberated in the Arab Gulf, run businesses and newspapers, head diplomatic missions and help run the oil industry.
They make up about 30% of the country's workforce.
"We are more than delighted ... this is a very daring step by His Highness the Emir," said Seham Razzouki, one of two women on the board of state-owned Kuwait Petroleum Corps.
"For those women who have campaigned long and hard for their constitutional rights, it is a great achievement," said prominent female activist Masoumah al-Mubarak.
The order would allow women to vote and run for public office - but not until 2003, when the next but one parliamentary elections are scheduled.
A legal committee will now work on implementing it.
Good chance of success
It must be agreed by the new parliament elected on July 3 to take effect, but commentators said the fact that it is an emiri order gives it a much greater chance of success than a simple draft Bill.
Western allies who led the 1991 Gulf War have been lobbying for the female vote since the emir restored parliamentary life in 1992 after a break of six years.
US embassy spokesman Claud Young said: "We welcome any steps that widen the participation in the political process and in this light we applaud the step taken today."
Kuwait is the only Gulf Arab state with an elected parliament, with about 113,000 Kuwaiti men able to vote for 50 parliamentary seats.
The emir dissolved parliament in May after more than two years of recurring clashes between parliament and his government.
Candidates in the upcoming election have voiced opposing views on female suffrage. Even some of those in favour are against women running for parliament.
The interests and traditions of Islamic and tribal groups have previously blocked women from winning over enough MPs to support their campaign.
The editor of Kuwait's Al-Qabas newspaper, Mohammad Al-Sager, himself standing for election, says the government is trying to win votes with the move.
Meanwhile other Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia will be put under increased pressure to extend the political role of women, says the BBC's Frank Gardner.