The national assembly of Kuwait has passed legislation granting political rights to Kuwaiti women. Kuwait's hereditary leader, Sheikh Jabir al-Ahmad al-Jabir Al Sabah, has the final word on most government policies; but members of the national assembly can initiate legislation and express their lack of confidence in cabinet ministers.
The national assembly's recent action marks the first time the women of Kuwait will be able to vote since the country became independent from Britain in 1961. While Kuwait's constitution calls for gender equality, a law passed in 1962 did not allow women to participate in national assembly elections, either as candidates or voters. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says "The ability of women to play a full role in the political life of Kuwait adds a welcome and necessary element to the vibrant and critical roles they already play in numerous spheres of Kuwaiti society":
"We think this is an important step forward for Kuwait, for the women of Kuwait, and for the nation as a whole. And certainly the ability of the women of Kuwait now to play a more effective role in the full political life of the nation is a good step forward and one that will help the people throughout Kuwaiti society."
Abdul Reda Assiri is chairman of Kuwait University's political science department. He says that "people who have held the traditional justification that a woman's place is at home...should focus on different issues":
"And others have held to religious justifications that major decisions made in the society should be made by males. Now this group of people cannot hold water as far as their rationale or their opposition because there are counter opinions from religious elements that women do participate in the political decision-making, whether as a voter or a member of parliament, as in many other Islamic societies."
"The momentum of freedom in the Middle East is beginning to benefit women," says President George W. Bush. "That's what's important," he says, "A free society is a society in which women will benefit."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.