LSE Kuwait Programme Hosts Seminar on Women's Rights in the Gulf
A great deal of misinformation exists about women's rights in the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). An engaging conversation took place on Wednesday at the London School of Economics titled Dispelling Stereotypes: Women's Rights in the Gulf States by LSE Kuwait Programme. Chaired by Dr Courtney Freer, the main speakers and experts in their field Lulu al-Sabah and Dr Hatoon al-Fassi spoke about women’s place in the GCC today.
More specifically, Lulu al-Sabah, founder member of Abolish Article 153, engaged the audience in a socioeconomic, cultural and legal conversation about women in Kuwait, the legal restrictions and difficulties they face in their everyday life. Highlighting the Art 29 from the 1961 Kuwait Constitution about equal rights and no discrimination, Lulu al-Sabah passionately talked about gender equality, social empowerment, sanctity of human life irrespective of gender and raised legal awareness on the subject. The campaign aims to abolish Article 153 which states that “This law states that any man who surprises his mother, sister, daughter or wife in an unsavoury sexual (zinna) act with a man and kills her or him or both will be treated as committing a misdemeanour punishable by a maximum of 3 years jail time and/or a fine of 3000 rupees (KD 14)”. The founder of the campaign focused her speech on the importance of creating a safe environment where women in Kuwait are secure and protected from any form of violence while also referred to the unsettling issue of Kuwait lacking safe houses for women under threat of violence.
In her turn, Dr Hatoon al-Fassi from Qatar University, energetically discussed how women in the region aspire to challenge and ultimately change the status quo. A top professor herself, referred to the 1960’s educational restrictions in Kuwait and highlighted that today, despite all the limitations and hardship throughout the years, female students outnumber male students. Women’s rights activist, Dr al-Fassi, also spoke about the political restrictions women face and how important it is for them to be allowed to participate in the municipal elections. She shared the most recent example of the 2015 Saudi Arabian municipal elections to point out that there were 978 women registered as candidates however, many were barred from registering by the authorities. One of her concluding remarks was about how the youth of the region has an important role and is more than capable of challenging the stereotypes nowadays.
It becomes clear that in today’s society, after all these years of fighting for equality and despite the overall progress, women are still denied equal rights and still face difficulties when it comes to be a part of the decision making. An aspect that was largely omitted at the lecture was the persecution of women for their political opinions. Only last month, the ICFUAE raised the case of Amina Abdouli, prisoner of conscience in the UAE, sentenced to 5 years in jail for simply expressing her opinions online. The tactics used to silence critical voices comprise of a wide range of human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, ill-treatment and continued harassment or revocation of legal status of family members.
Now it’s time to take action and raise awareness about the value of gender equality. To protect every woman out there, and guarantee a safe and equal future. Women’s rights are human rights; and human rights are for all.