KUWAIT CITY, AP -An American-educated professor and women”s rights activist was named Kuwait”s first female Cabinet minister Sunday, a month after lawmakers in this oil-rich nation granted women the right to vote and run for Parliament.
Massouma al-Mubarak was given the planning and administrative development portfolios, Prime Minister Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah told the Kuwait News Agency. He described the appointment as a "wish come true," for the government that proposed the suffrage bill to the all-male legislature.
"This honor is not bestowed on my person but on every woman who fought to prove that Kuwaiti women are capable," al-Mubarak, 54, told The Associated Press.
The women”s suffrage bill passed in a 35-23 vote on May 16, despite the opposition of many fundamentalist Muslim and tribal lawmakers who believe women should not mix freely with men and should stay home to take care of their families.
The appointment needs to be approved by the ruler, Sheik Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah, and issued in a decree. The final steps are procedural; the emir has been a strong proponent of women”s rights. In 1999, he granted women political rights, but the legislature overturned his order.
Women will get the chance to practice their newly won rights in 2007 parliamentary elections. Last Sunday, the government appointed two women to the partly elected Municipal Council, also a first for this conservative nation that is a major ally of Washington.
Aisha al-Rsheid, a businesswoman and journalist who announced last month that she planned to run in the 2007 elections, described Sunday”s appointment as women”s "third victory," after the suffrage vote and the municipal appointments.
"It is a message from the government that women should start moving so that by the time voter registration opens (in February) they will be organized and (more politically) aware," she said.
Al-Mubarak holds a Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Denver, in Colorado. She has taught political science at Kuwait University since 1982 and writes a daily column for Al-Anba newspaper.
When al-Mubarak takes up her post, she — like other Cabinet ministers — will be able to vote in the legislature in accordance with Kuwait”s 1962 constitution.
Kuwaiti women have reached high positions in oil, education and the diplomatic corps, but they were until recently kept out of politics because of a 43-year-old election law that limited political rights to men.