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Last Updated: Monday, 7 March, 2005, 18:13 GMT
Kuwait hastens women's vote bill
Hundreds of Kuwaitis protest for women's right outside the parliament
More than 400 people turned out for the protest
Kuwait's parliament has agreed to speed up moves towards a law to grant women the same political rights as men.

The decision came amid noisy street rallies by women activists, who were also permitted to watch the debate.

But the public gallery was cleared after some activists applauded a speech by one MP in support of their cause.

The cabinet has already approved a bill allowing women to vote and stand in elections, but it has been delayed in parliament by the strong Islamist bloc.

The writing is on the wall and Kuwaitis know this
Haresh Keswani, Tanzania

The government has run a rare campaign on state-run television and radio to win public support for the bill, as conservative opponents stage near-daily protests.

On Monday, the chamber asked its interior and defence committee to promptly consider the bill before referring it to the full house.

Ten Islamist MPs withdrew their motion to refer the legislation to the constitutional court, saying they would give parliament a chance to debate the bill.

Islamic objection

Kuwaiti women listen to parliamentary debate
Women were permitted into parliament to hear some speeches
One of the organisers of the protest, Lulwa al-Mullah, told the BBC that both women and men took part and that there was a heavy police presence.

Some of the women were covered completely in full-length veils, but many were dressed in the pale blue colour that symbolises the struggle of women in Kuwait.

The demonstrators carried placards reading: "Women's rights now", and "Islamic law does not contain anything against women's rights".

Most Islamic groups in Kuwait oppose granting women political rights and parliament has twice defeated similar measures in recent years.

Reports put the number of protesters at 400-600 people, mostly women but also including a number of male sympathisers.

Women can vote and be elected: Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Palestinian territories, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Yemen, Morocco, Tunis, Algeria, Iran
Women cannot vote or be elected: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia
There are no elections: Syria (holds presidential referenda in which women can vote), UAE, Libya

"We cannot be elected or give our vote to any political candidate. We are deprived of this political right," Ms Mullah, from the Kuwaiti Women's Cultural and Social Society, told the BBC's World Today programme.

"This is our demand, because there is an article in the Kuwaiti constitution that says decisions are equal and there are no differences between the sexes."

Middle Eastern governments, including long term allies of Washington, have been coming under pressure to bring in political reform.

Kuwaiti women serve as diplomats, run businesses, and work at all levels in industry, but cannot vote or stand in elections.

In other Gulf states, such as Bahrain and Qatar, women can already vote and stand for election.

Kuwait to discuss women's votes
22 Feb 05 |  Middle East
Kuwait moves to grant women vote
16 May 04 |  Middle East
Muslim girls struggle for education
24 Sep 03 |  Middle East
Timeline: Kuwait
14 Jul 03 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Kuwait
11 Sep 03 |  Country profiles

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