Kuwaiti women, who have struggled in vain for their political rights over nearly four decades, are just one step away from winning their suffrage, women activists amid their supporters said Wednesday.
"Things won't take too long. We are highly optimistic because some MPs opposing women's rights have changed their position and the government is with us," said leading activist Fatima al-Abdali.
Kuwaiti women and their liberal supporters made 10 unsuccessful bids since 1971 to win the right to vote and candidacy which is strongly opposed by a powerful Islamist-tribal alliance in parliament founded some 43 years ago.
"I am highly confident that Kuwaiti women will take part in the 2007 general elections. I am very optimistic," Kuwaiti writer Laila al-Othman said.
"I believe they (MPs and government) should do it themselves otherwise pressure will come from outside," said Othman, who insisted that the current global situation no longer tolerates double-standard policies on human rights.
MPs agreed Monday to a government request to ask its interior and defense committee to speed up discussing a bill that would grant women full political rights, as hundreds of women activists demonstrated outside parliament.
The government is scheduled to meet with the committee, dominated by conservative tribal MPs, next week to start discussing the bill before it goes for debate in the house.
Meanwhile, both supporters and opponents of women rights continued to hold public rallies to press their cases, as Islamists warned that the plan to enfranchise women is part of a plot to "Westernise" society.
Liberal-leaning Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, believed to be the driving force pressing for women rights, has expressed hope that the majority of MPs will vote for the bill.
The bill, approved by the cabinet last May, amends Article One of the 1962 electoral law which limits participation to male citizens and would bring it into line with the constitution, which stipulates gender equality.
"There has been a qualitative change in the government position ... I am confident the government this time is far better than in previous attempts," said university professor Masouma al-Mubarak.
Former liberal MP Abdullah al-Naibari said the government "is capable of becoming an influential force to garner the needed support for the bill," in reference to about a dozen pro-government MPs who can be pressed to back the bill.
The main opposition comes from the Islamic Bloc, which comprises 13 Sunni Muslim MPs, and their tribal allies, who are against the bill on social and religious grounds.
In a rare move, the government has launched a media campaign on state-run television and radio stations to win public support for the bill.
"Global and Gulf situations have changed in favour of women's rights. The government is throwing its weight behind the bill ... but we need more effort," said Sheikha al-Nasif, head of Kuwait Cultural and Social Women Society.
"We will apply pressure on MPs who are opposed or still hesitant toward women's rights ... Time for bargains, delay and excuses is over. We must get our rights now," she said.
A women's rights bill put forward by Emir Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah was narrowly defeated in November 1999 by an Islamist-tribal alliance.
Unless the electoral law is amended, only men 21 and older would be eligible to vote for the 50-seat house in Kuwait's next legislative elections set for July 2007. That is equivalent to only 15 percent of the country's 950,000 citizens.