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The BBC's Frank Gardner:
"They are not used to seeing women in power"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 4 July, 2000, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Spotlight on women's rights
Kuwait's all-male parliament - but for how much longer?
Kuwait's all-male parliament - but for how much longer?
By Frank Gardner in Kuwait

A landmark case in Kuwait has again put the spotlight on women's political rights in Kuwait.

The coutnry's highest tribunal has rejected four cases that could have led to granting women the right to vote and run for office.

Kuwait has the only elected law-making parliament in the Gulf Arab states, but women are excluded from voting or standing for office.

Women can only observe parliamentary proceedings
Women can only watch parliamentary proceedings from the observers' gallery
In Kuwait's powerful, all-male parliament, politicians have been debating the role of women in Kuwaiti society.

The forum is the nearest the Gulf Arab states come to having a Western-style democracy. It can make laws, and it can block them.

So far, the only place in parliament for Kuwaiti women has been in the observers' gallery.

The government would like to give them their political rights. However, a coalition of tribal and Islamist MPs has twice defeated bills that would have given women the vote.

Baqer: A woman's place is in the home
Baqer: A woman's place is in the home
Ahmad Baqer, an Islamist MP, says that a woman's place is in the home.

"We believe in sharing the responsibility with women," he says.

"For example, the men take the responsibility for politics, and the women take the responsibility for the family, and in this case I think nothing will change because men will represent all the family."

New generation of women

Instead of taking to the streets, the smartest women campaigners decided to take their case to the highest court in Kuwait - just across the street from parliament.

Rola Dashti: Determined to change law excluding women from politics
Rola Dashti: Determined to change law excluding women from politics
The Kuwaiti businesswoman, Rola Dashti, has been championing the women's cause.

She and others are accusing the government of violating the constitution with its election law that limits the vote to men.

Kuwait's 1960s constitution is supposed to guarantee equal rights to men and women.

Rola Dashti believes that it is time women exercised that right in politics.

"We believe that it'll give Kuwait a big push," she argues.

"It will enhance Kuwait in its development process. We'll bring different issues, we look at things differently, we'll participate in the development of the country itself."

In today's Kuwait, Rola Dashti is typical of a new breed of women who are well-educated and ambitious.

They are graduating to some of the top posts in business. Ms Dashti's lawyer, Badria al-Awadhi, believes that women all over the Gulf are watching the progress of Kuwait's women political campaigners.

Kuwait has a new generation of well-educated and ambitious women
Kuwait's new generation of well-educated and ambitious women
"I think we're going to have a lot of impact on their future," she said.

Yet most Kuwaitis remain highly conservative. They are not used to seeing women in power.

This tribal, Muslim society has always been strictly segregated.

Putting the two sexes together in parliament is an idea many find hard to cope with.

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See also:

04 Jul 00 | Middle East
Blow for Kuwaiti 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
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