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The BBC's Linda Duffin
"It is a big set back for the women who say political equality will benefit both sexes"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 4 July, 2000, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
Blow for Kuwaiti women's rights
Kuwaiti women
Women remain political on-lookers in Kuwait
The high court in Kuwait has dismissed four cases that could have led to women being granted the right to vote and run for office.

No reason has yet been given, but one disappointed activist described the verdict as "a very sad day for Kuwaiti women".

The cases were brought by Kuwaiti women's rights activists as an appeal following last years rejection of votes for women by the all-male parliament.

They had hoped the court would decide that preventing women voting was unconstitutional.

Kuwaiti parliament
Only men can play a full role in Kuwaiti politics

But government lawyers dismissed the case on a technicality, arguing they were "incorrectly referred" to it by lower administrative and elections tribunals.

This court hearing was the activists' last line of appeal following parliament's rejection of the suffrage bill, which was endorsed by the emir, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah.

No concern

The views of Ahmad Baqer, an Islamist MP are typical of many in parliament who believe politics should be no concern of women.

"We believe in sharing the responsibility with women, with the men taking responsibility for politics and women for the family," he said.

Activists argue that the 1962 elections law is unconstitutional because it bars women from voting and running for office, even though the constitution, established the same year, gives equal rights to both sexes.


I think nothing will change because men represent all the family

Ahmad Baqer, Islamist MP

In an organised protest in February, hundreds of women went to registration offices to add their names to the electoral roll.

They were turned down as they expected, but they used the refusal to launch their court cases against election officials.

Activists say votes for women are fundamental for Kuwait's future development.

"We believe it'll give Kuwait a big push forward," said Dr Rola Dashti, a Kuwaiti businesswoman.

"It'll enhance Kuwait, we'll bring different issues and participate in the development of the country."

Resistance

However, fundamentalist Muslim and conservative tribal lawmakers have long united to defeat suffrage bills.

They believe it is improper to allow women and men to mix freely, especially in election campaigns.

Although women in Kuwait have never been part of the political scene, they can work, drive and travel alone - unlike their counterparts in other countries in the region.

Women already hold many senior administrative positions outside of the parliament, including rector of the state Kuwait University.

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See also:

04 Jul 00 | Middle East
Spotlight on women's rights
29 May 00 | Middle East
Kuwaiti women claim mini-victory
30 Nov 99 | Middle East
No vote for Kuwaiti women
09 Nov 99 | Middle East
Kuwait votes-for-women setback
17 Jul 99 | Middle East
Kuwait's royalty backs women
09 Mar 99 | Middle East
Analysis: Gulf democracy gets boost
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