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Kuwaiti Women Campaign for Right to Vote, Run for Office

September 29, 1996

KUWAIT (AP) _ Kuwaiti women won’t be voting or running for office in next week’s parliamentary elections. But if the campaign they launched Sunday succeeds, they’ll be at the polls and on the ballot in 2000.

About 300 women _ including many lawyers, doctors, artists and other well-educated Kuwaitis _ and scores of male supporters are trying to change the 1962 election law that gave only men the right to vote and run for office.

``Please stand up and give yourselves the credit for making the impossible happen today,″ Lubna Seif Abbas told fellow activists, each of whom wore a tiny blue ribbon, their symbol for the voting rights drive.

Abbas promised an educational and lobbying campaign to win women the right to vote and run for office. As a first step, her group organized a symbolic, one-hour work stoppage Sunday, the first in this traditional Muslim society, and said 570 women complied.

Women in Kuwait can hold jobs, drive cars, go to school and travel abroad unaccompanied. Still, society is highly segregated. Boys and girls attend separate schools and weddings often involve separate parties for women and men.

Women seldom are invited to the nightly election campaign rallies; when they show up, they’re confined to separate tents.

``It is a real tragedy that the rector of Kuwait University (a woman) cannot vote and a male student who has repeatedly failed high school can,″ Ahmed al-Baghdadi, head of the university’s political science department, said at a weekend seminar on women’s rights.

Relatively few of the 1.7 million people living in Kuwait are eligible to vote _ even the men. The majority are foreign workers in the oil-rich Persian Gulf country. Of the 700,000 Kuwaiti nationals, half are women.

Still, just 107,000 men will be eligible to vote Oct. 7. The law requires voters to be male, at least 21 and able to trace their Kuwaiti ancestry to the 1920s.

Voting rights for women were a hot issue in the last campaign in 1992. A number of opposition candidates supported giving them the vote, arguing that Kuwaiti women had worked hard alongside the men in resisting Iraq’s 1990-91 occupation.

The parliament’s education committee even approved a bill in June 1995 giving them the right to vote. But the legislation has not come before the 50-member parliament, which adjourns this week.

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