KUWAIT: WOMEN’S RIGHTS FACE AN UPHILL BATTLE

LAMA ALTAHER WRITES – On April 19, 2021, the brutal murder of Farah Hamza Akbar offered a watershed moment to grapple with the country’s discriminatory laws against women. A Kuwaiti woman was killed by a man against whom she had previously filed two cases for harassment which followed her family’s alleged refusal to his marriage proposal. The perpetrator, arrested and later released on bail, kidnapped the woman and stabbed her to death. Her body was left outside the Al Adan hospital.

Within hours of the murder, to which the arrested man later confessed, a video immediately circulated on social media showing the victim’s sister — who is a lawyer — asserting that she has repeatedly pleaded with a public prosecutor that the release of the man would jeopardize her sister’s life — nevertheless he was freed on bail. Hours later, the victim’s name was trending on Twitter as hundreds of citizens expressed their outrage.

This murder comes two months after Kuwaiti activists launched their own #metoo movement which, as all the world knows, urgently supports better protection of women from harassment and violence. To the women-rights activists who capitalized on the recent social media uproar, though, sexual harassment is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how their society sees women. Kuwaiti women, increasingly vexed, demand  “complaints filed by women that experience violence should be taken more seriously.”

This has further led to the ‘Am I Next Protest’, demanding justice and equality. The issue of gender-based violence is widespread in Kuwait, but this issue has increased in recent months after the anti- harassment movements went viral.    Despite all this, Kuwait women have made great progress, including the ability to vote and run for political office. On May 17, 2005, women were granted new social and civil rights, such as equal welfare benefits and employment rights and formal equality in many aspects of marriage.

The Kuwait Society for Human Rights (KSR) further exerts all possible efforts to disseminate equality and prohibits discrimination against women. Between the years 2020 and 2021 alone, the adoption of the law on the protection of domestic violence has been introduced. Eight female judges have also been appointed for the first time in Kuwait’s history. Speaker of the National Assembly Marzouq Ali Al Ghanem said, “the rise of Kuwaiti women to the judiciary platform is a long-awaited entitlement, and a step forward in the march of Kuwaiti women.

Kuwaiti women are certainly not where they used to be decades ago. However, women empowerment still remains a challenge for all countries. No country in the world is fully on track to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030. But Kuwaiti women are now fully engaged in the march forward.

Lama Altaher is a staff writer for LMU’s Asia Media.

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