Rula Dashti, who heads the Kuwait Economic Society and aspires to enter Kuwait's parliament in the 2007 general election, said: "What we are witnessing is tokenism."

"Is this inclusion of women in political and public life a starting point of real change and strategic objective, or lip-service and a token act by the regime?," she asked, addressing a largely female audience at a women's conference in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

She accused the regional leaders of using "marginal appointments" of some women as ministers and members of Shura (consultative) councils to serve as window dressing for the rest of the world.

All member states in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - except Saudi Arabia - have at least one female minister.

Family links

"Don't have these radical Islamists and patriarchal institutions determine your destiny and control your life...[and] hijack the hopes of the mothers for their daughters to have a better life"

Rula Dashti,
Kuwait Economic Society

Kuwait was the last country to admit a woman into its cabinet last May through a historic move which granted women their full political rights after four decades of marginalisation.

"The woman appointed in Kuwait has a history of being a woman's rights activist," Dashti told AFP, describing Maasuma al-Mubarak, the first female minister in the history of the oil-rich state.

"But most of the others who were appointed are... connected through family links" to the ruling establishments, she said of Gulf women in public offices.

She also warned against attempts to hamper women's empowerment and urged fellow women to put up a fight.

"Don't have these radical Islamists and patriarchal institutions determine your destiny and control your life. Don't have these extremists hijack the hopes of the mothers for their daughters to have a better life," she said, triggering a long round of applause.