A long and winding road: Fighting gender-based violence in Kuwait


A long and winding road: Fighting gender-based violence in Kuwait
  1. A long and winding road: Fighting gender-based violence in Kuwait
    yourmiddleeast.com
    How can it be possible to raise girls in Kuwait where there are no laws prohibiting marital rape, sexual harassment or domestic violence? This was the main concern that pushed five women activists to create in 2014 the Abolish 153 campaign in order to increase awareness against laws that encourage gender-based violence in Kuwait. A recipient of the 2016 Chaillot Prize for the Promotion of Human Rights in the…
    Kuwait

How can it be possible to raise girls in Kuwait where there are no laws prohibiting marital rape, sexual harassment or domestic violence? This was the main concern that pushed five women activists to create in 2014 the Abolish 153 campaign in order to increase awareness against laws that encourage gender-based violence in Kuwait. A recipient of the 2016 Chaillot Prize for the Promotion of Human Rights in the GCC, the movement lobbies to abolish article 153 from the Kuwaiti Penal code. Article 153 deals with so-called honor killings stipulating that “any man who surprises his mother, sister, daughter or wife in an act of adultery with a man and kills her or him or both will be treated as committing a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 3 years jail time and/or a fine of 3000 rupees” (the equivalent of 42 euros). The law is applied regardless of whether the sexual act was consensual or not.

“The article goes back to 1960 and is derived from the Napoleonic penal code which tolerated passion crimes. It is blatantly contrary to the Constitution of ‘62, against several human rights agreements ratified by Kuwait and it is not even Sharia compliant because in Islam four witnesses are required to prove there was adultery”, says Alanoud Al Sharekh, one of the founders of Abolish 153 and the first Kuwaiti to be decorated with the French National Order of Merit for her work in the human rights field.

“Honor killings are a worldwide phenomenon and are not limited to Kuwait or Islam. They happen when a threat to the family’s reputation is perceived. It can take place in case of adultery but also for something as innocent as a phone call.”

This is what happened in 2014 to 24-year-old Kuwaiti Mashael Albasman, who was studying English in the UK and was murdered by her father because he found her using a mobile phone. He stabbed her 13 times for being “disrespectful” and killed her in the name of honor.

“Another particular aspect of domestic violence in Kuwait is that abuses are linked to religiosity: the more pious people are, the more they support the principle of honor killings, even though Article 153 is not compliant with Sharia,” clarifies Al Sharekh.

Photo: Members of the Abolish 153 team. Founding member Alanoud Al Sharekh to the right.

The team at Abolish 153 raises awareness via social media and through activities such as art exhibitions, lectures, fundraising events and outreach programs within local communities. In some desperate cases, Abolish 153 has even financially supported victims rejected by their families. “The campaign has more women supporters but more and more men have started to show involvement by following or participating in our events,” says Nawar Al Barak, the project manager of Abolish 153.

In July 2016, Abolish 153 conducted a survey, the first of its kind in Kuwait and in the rest of the Gulf, to understand the knowledge of Kuwaitis and their attitude towards domestic violence and honor killings. The result showed that the clear majority of Kuwaitis (86%) never heard of the article on honor killings and 63% does not support it, with a clear correlation between the level of education and the rejection rate. 

“Article 153 is the most violent in Kuwait but it is not the only one sanctioning violence or discrimination against women,” Al Sharekh says. Article 182 of the penal code, for instance, allows a man to abduct a woman without being punished or going to jail, on the condition that he marries the victim with her guardian’s permission.  Furthermore, the Nationality law of 1959 resembles other laws in the rest of the Arab world: Kuwaiti women married to foreigners, unlike Kuwaiti men, cannot pass on citizenship to their children or spouses, who are treated like expats and have no legal rights.

Lobbying MPs

Different groups in Kuwait are trying hard to raise awareness around the subject of violence against women, and at the beginning of March a new non-profit umbrella organization called Eithar (Altruism) was launched. It groups several associations, including Abolish 153, lobbying for changes to legislations sanctioning violence and fighting against gender-based violence in the region.

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The Abolish 153 members also lobby MPs to amend the article about honor killings. After more than two years of campaigning, they reached a milestone in 2016 when Salah Al Ashour, Head of the Women and Family Affairs Committee at the Assembly, accepted to request a formal inquiry into article 153 and its unconstitutional status during a parliamentary session. “The results are still pending. Most MPs support the campaign and want to amend the article but as honor killings are not a common phenomenon, it does not constitute a priority. Regardless of the number of abuses this law must be revised,” Alanoud Al Sharekh insists.

The group has also recently met with Safa Al Hashem, the only woman to win a seat in the parliamentary election of November 2016.  She showed great commitment to tackle legislation abiding violence and to create shelters for victims of abuse. The only politician who has expressed publicly to be in favor of article 153 is Salafist Abdulrahman Al Jeeran, ex-member of the assembly, who believes the campaign aims to defend adulterous wives, as was reported by the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Rai.

Creating shelters to protect victims of abuse

In the total absence of hotlines, shelters or even rape kits in hospitals, another main objective of the campaign is to make more resources available for victims and to lobby for the construction of shelters. “Kuwait is the only country in the Gulf that does not have private or public shelters,“ Al Sharekh remarks.

Moreover, according to a medical study in 2010, “the awareness of the prevalence of domestic violence cases among primary care nurses is poor and shortage of knowledge is a barrier to an effective clinical response by medical professionals. Between 60 and 90 per cent of patients are inadequately managed.”

In other cases, as described by a 2015 report on Kuwait by the US State Department, “hospitals denied treatment for victims of sexual assault who had not reported the case to the police first”. According to the same document, police officers rarely arrest perpetrators of domestic violence even if presented with evidence of abuse: “Individuals also reportedly bribed police officials to ignore…

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