Published on Arab Voices

Kuwait’s #MeToo movement: "Lan Asket"— I will not be silent

???????? ????? ??? ????? ??????? ????????? ??????? ????????? ?????? ?? ????? ?????? ??? ????? ????????? ???? ??????. الناشطات يلجأن إلى وسائل التواصل الاجتماعي للتوعية باحتجاجهن رقمياً ضد العنف القائم على النوع الاجتماعي وقتل النساء.

During the COVID-19 pandemic domestic violence against women increased considerably. Kuwait is no exception to the rule and a series of incidents of gender-based violence have sparked outrage and amplified calls for greater protection for women against gender-based violence. Activists are taking to social media to raise awareness in one case calling for a digital display of mourning resulting in multitudes of women and a few men standing in brave silence, in an online protest against gender-based violence and femicide.  

Three months ago Kuwaiti activists launched a nationwide social-media campaign to end sexual harassment and violence against women under the epithet Lan Asket "I will not be silent". Kuwaiti women are now defying conservative norms to speak out against harassment, discrimination and violence against women. The evidence is clear: Until more men speak out, Kuwaiti women will continue to be impacted by harassment and discrimination and gender-based violence.  

Women make up half the Kuwaiti population. They are increasingly better educated (according to UNICEF they form 76% of university graduates) and taking up jobs in the public administration at higher rates than their male counterparts (women form 66% of the civil service in Kuwait). A free, open and safe Kuwaiti society will allow Kuwaiti women and the country in general to develop to its potential as quickly as possible. But this is not happening. Despite high standards of living, women are facing increasing challenges to their equality in Kuwaiti society in terms of marriage, household responsibilities, divorce and inheritance, citizenship and economic participation and opportunity and political empowerment

Despite its reputation for being a relatively open and tolerant society, Kuwait receives one of the lowest scores in the world according to the World Bank’s Women Business and the Law (WBL) index that measures women’s legal rights and access to economic opportunities. Kuwait’s score has slipped in past years and now trails only two others (Yemen and West Bank and Gaza) out of 190 economies in the Index. The authors of the report suggest that "Kuwait may wish to consider allowing a woman to get a job without permission from her husband, prohibiting discrimination in employment based on gender, enacting legislation protecting women from sexual harassment in employment, and adopting criminal or civil penalties for sexual harassment in employment."

Kuwait’s December 2020 elections saw the return of an all-male parliament when not a single female candidate secured a seat. Without female representation in parliament, issues of importance to women, such as gender-based violence will not get a fair hearing.  Without women in positions of leadership, Kuwait will fail to make progress on other basic issues such as reproductive rights, maternity leave, establishing daycares to support women’s workplace participation and providing greater access to economic opportunity. 

But there are signs that Kuwait is moving in the right direction. Kuwait enacted a new law to protect women from domestic violence on September 20th, 2020. According to Human Rights Watch, "The law creates a national committee — with representatives from different ministries and civil society — to draw up policies to combat and protect women from domestic violence. The committee will also submit recommendations to amend or repeal laws that contradict the new domestic violence law. The new legislation also establishes shelters and a hotline to receive domestic violence complaints, provides counseling and legal assistance for victims, and allows for emergency protection orders (restraining orders) to prevent abusers from contacting their victim."

Kuwait can build on this progress and address the gaps in legal protection. Article 153 of Kuwait’s penal code addresses so-called "honor killings". Under the law, men who murder their mothers, sisters, daughters or wives caught in a perceived unsavory situation are to be given nothing more than a misdemeanor sentence limited to three years in prison and a token fine. Abolishing this article would align the law with the newly passed legislation against domestic violence and provide women with equal protection, but despite years of campaigns against it, the law still stands. It is time to abolish such anachronistic statutes, ensure implementation of the new laws passed and work to enact a gender-blind legal system. Kuwait should not wait for another tragedy to make progress. And men must take up this call for justice just as passionately as women have done in the past few days, weeks, months and even years and work to create a safe environment so that mothers, daughters, sisters and wives are protected from all forms of violence. With strength, empathy, and resilience Kuwait will hopefully reemerge as a safe place for all.  


The World Bank in MENA

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