As of 2022, Kuwait ranked 130 out of 146 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report in terms of women’s rights, making it one of the most unequal countries in the world based on gender equality. Much of the country’s standards for women’s rights and role in society are based on Sunni Islam Doctrine, including the Kuwaiti personal status law. This act dictates how many Muslim citizens should behave in regard to issues such as gender roles, divorce, marriage and child custody.
Divorce, for instance, is easier for men to file than for women. Men may divorce their wives for any reason, while women must file on specific grounds, such as a lack of financial support or mental illness. Many women also need permission for marriage from a male relative and the laws allow men to take up to four wives without needing the consent of prior spouses. While Kuwait may still have barriers to overcome to achieve gender equality, many organizations are working to advance women’s rights in Kuwait.
Women’s Place in Society
Women’s lack of autonomy in marriage likely contributes to the high prevalence of domestic violence in the country, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). There were no laws outlawing domestic violence or intramarital rape and sexual abuse prior to 2020. According to a 2020 Soroptimist survey, 62.9% of those surveyed admitted to having experienced domestic violence, with 83.5% being women. It is also likely that domestic violence is largely underreported in the country. The issue of domestic violence is expected to be dealt with within the family rather than by law enforcement.
There is also a severe lack of women’s representation in government and women in the country only received the right to vote in 2006, according to a World Economic Forum report. Furthermore, Kuwait swore in the first female judges in the country’s history in 2020.
One organization currently working to advance women’s rights in Kuwait is Abolish Article 153. The organization aims to remove Article 153 from the Penal Code in Kuwait. This article stipulates that any man who kills a female family member after finding them engaged in an “unsavory” sexual act will receive no more than three years of jail time. These acts are “honor killings” and are common in the Middle East.
About 47,000 women and girls worldwide were murdered in 2020 by their families or intimate partners. Abolish Article 153 group’s advocacy includes advocacy meetings with committees in the National Assembly as well as working with civil society organizations to spread awareness and educate the public on violence against women. The organization has had successes in the past, such as conducting the first survey on the topic of determining the public’s opinion on laws such as Article 153. The report indicated that 63% of those surveyed condemned such laws.
Although women in Kuwaiti society still experience many obstacles related to their gender, recent progress in gender equality in the country shows that the nation is undergoing improvements. Women’s rights groups such as Abolish Article 153 are helping to make strides in the right direction.
– Emma Glas