15 June 2005

Many industrialized countries take voting for granted. Most women in the First World have luxury concerns compared to the basic rights denied women in the Third World. Hence the jubilation over a victory for women in Kuwait. After thirty years of persistent struggle since the independence of that Gulf state, parliament members finally gave in. Finally, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al-Jaber Al Sabah was able to propose and pass a desired motion which should have come much earlier than those achieved by neighbouring Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman.

While women were active in civic groups -- in Kuwait more than elsewhere in the whole Gulf region, conservatives fought against their political rights under the false guise of defending traditional religion. In fact, Islam as a faith gives women a prominent role in deciding public affairs. But societies are often pulled by their slowest boats. Kuwait, for example, was among the first Arab countries to appoint women in key government posts and propose them internationally. The Deputy Executive Secretary of U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Ms. Mariam Al-Awadi has done an impressive task representing Kuwaiti and Arab women. Closer to home, one of the most impressive diplomats at U.N. Headquarters is Kuwaiti Permanent Representative Ambassador Nabilah Al-Mulla.

Incidentally, Gulf countries are not alone in not giving women their fair chance. While countries like Sweden, Norway and Iceland rank highest in a survey by the World Economic Forum, countries like Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt rank at the bottom. It is strange, however, that one of the first woman Prime Ministers was Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan and Tansu Ciller in Turkey. And we all know of Queen Noor and now Queen Rania of Jordan.

Coming close to home, the number of female ambassadors to the U.N. has not changed much despite rhetorical statements at ceremonial sessions. Maybe those heads of state -- some of them women -- should be bluntly reminded not just to talk the talk but to walk the walk. And they will discover that it is not that hard.