“You Are Not the First” ..Violent Crimes Against Women in Kuwait Exist
By Hanadi Al-Houli
“You are not the first, all the girls who come to us take their treatments and leave without registering a report.” This is what the ER doctor at a government hospital told Amal (a pseudonym), who is 29 years old.
Regarding this difficult experience, Amal said in an interview with the “Sharika Walaken” website: “I was beaten by my father, and I managed to escape from the house and went to the hospital to obtain a medical report proving that I had been subjected to violence. But there was only one sentence that echoed in my ear from the reception staff to the nurse through the doctor to the investigating officer in the hospital: he’s your father and he beat you, that’s normal.”
She recounted to our site that although she is over the legal age, there was an attempt to persuade her not to obtain a medical report and report it, under the pretext that he is her father after all.
But she refused and got the report and went to the police station to prove the case, but the officer refused to register her complaint and called her father and informed him of the situation.
The matter did not end here, as Amal confirmed that her father “arrived at the police station and beat me in full view of everyone and none of them moved a muscle, then he took me to the car and we headed home. No case was registered against him and he did not even sign any pledge.”
But Amal today is in another place and a new stage in her life. She was able to move out of her father’s house and live on her own. “But I face great difficulties in finding a house because social norms prevent unmarried women from renting their own house, and the fact that there is no shelter for victims/survivors of violence makes it even more difficult,” she said.
Violence against women in Kuwait
Why is violence against women increasing in Kuwait?
Women in Kuwait face a social structure that oppresses them, represented by a culture, customs and traditions that consider their exposure to violence normal. The violence we are talking about is not only physical, but also includes sexual, verbal, psychological and economic violence.
Unfortunately, the prevailing general culture does not call these behaviors violence, and is always armed with blaming women and holding them responsible for their exposure to these violations, and finding justifications for men, reasons and motives for the occurrence of these incidents. Every time they are subjected to violence, women hear phrases such as: “You definitely provoked him,” “What did you do to make him hit you?”, “He’s a man, of course he’s gonna be jealous.” And this culture does not condemn any explicit violent behavior towards women, so they say: “He’s her brother and he’s beating her, it’s normal.”
Recently, Kuwait witnessed an alarming increase in crimes of violence against women. Three consecutive crimes took place in less than two weeks. The first of which was the murder of Al-Ahmadi, which was committed by a man against his wife’s mother, using a Kalashnikov weapon, following a family dispute. The second was the “Ardiya crime,” when a man stabbed his wife to death. As for the third, it was the “Taima crime”, in which a Kuwaiti girl, a Bidoon (one without nationality), was killed by her brother, knowing that the security authorities were informed by the victim on the evening before the crime that she had been threatened with death. When the security men arrived, that same night, they informed the man of the notification they had received about her being threatened with death, so he went to the house and committed his crime and turned himself in.
These crimes followed in a short time, prompting activists on social media to launch hashtags and calls for sit-ins calling on the government, the National Assembly and the concerned authorities to take serious steps to reduce gender-based violence crimes.
These voices also called for facilitating the victims’ access to the concerned authorities and security services, and stressed the need to take their reports seriously, respond quickly to them, and provide the necessary safety for the victim/survivor.
These facts impose an urgent question on us: Have violent crimes against women really increased in Kuwait recently? Or are these crimes that have been unspoken of for a long time, under an outdated guise called “honor” and “shame”, and light was not shed on them before, as the alternative media does today? Knowing that Kuwait lacks accurate statistics on this subject, it is difficult to get the truth.
What are the forms of violence?
Talk of violence against women spread as a global issue in the 1970s, but it was recognized as a human rights issue in the early 1990s. It was then that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women on December 20, 1993, and General Recommendation No. 19 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination, which recognized violence against women as a form of discrimination.
As for the fields and scopes of committing such violence, they are multiple, such as the state which is represented by its discriminatory laws, the society or the family. This violence includes killings based on gender, so-called “honor cases,” rape, marital rape, and forced marriage, which includes child marriage. In addition to sexual harassment in workplaces, schools and public places, genital mutilation through “circumcision” or “Khitan” and sexual trafficking of women and girls.
Another form is economic violence. The lower wages of women compared to men is considered economic violence. It can also take the form of the father controlling the marriage dowry of his daughter and depriving her of it, or the husband controlling the house expenses and depriving the wife of work, or seizing her salary by force with the aim of domination, control and extortion. It also consists in forcing women to take bank loans and denying them the right to freely dispose of their money. All of them are forms of violence and all of them are a flagrant violation of the basic pillar of human rights, which is human dignity.
But is there enough talk about violence against women in Kuwait? A question we asked the lawyer, Israa Al-Amiri, and she replied: “Of course not, not anywhere in the world, not only in Kuwait. This issue is not given priority at all.”
Regarding the most common form of violence in Kuwait, she said that it is not possible to determine the most common form of violence against women in Kuwait due to the lack of sufficient and accurate statistics.
However, she clarified that “the most common type of violence that can be talked about It is sexual violence, especially since Kuwaiti society blames women and justifies it by the way they dress or their late hours at night. And marital rape, as Kuwaiti law does not consider forced sex with one’s wife a crime.”
She added, “There is a clear lack of understanding of physical violence. Pushing a woman, for example, is not considered violence, because it leaves no trace. To a greater extent, psychological, verbal, and economic violence is neglected, and the reason, in my opinion, is the deliberate absence of any entry into gender culture or sexual culture in general.”
Violence against women in Kuwait
Legislation and laws do not protect women!
In light of the existence of this culture, laws that reinforce the guardianship of men over women emerge, and find mitigating justifications for men in the event that they commit a murder, for example, through Article 153 of the Kuwaiti Penal Code, which states that “if a man surprises his wife in the act of adultery, his daughter, his mother, or his sister, and kills her on the spot, or kills the person who is committing adultery with her, or kills them both, he shall be punished with imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years and a fine equivalent to 45 dollars, or one of the two penalties.”
As a result of these recent crimes, a number of parliamentarians submitted a proposal to amend this article. Although this article is not related to the majority of recent crimes in Kuwait, and despite the existence of other laws that carry other types of guardianship and discrimination and are more closely related to women’s lives, such as personal status laws, this article creates in people’s minds a kind of normalization with these violent practices, and finds a justification for committing these crimes.
Among other laws that violate the rights and dignity of women and girls is Article 182, which states that “if the kidnapper marries the one he kidnapped legally and with the permission of her guardian, and if the guardian does not demand punishment, the kidnapper shall not be sentenced to any punishment.”
Knowing that the guardian is always a man, Kuwaiti women don’t have guardianship the way millions of Arab women do. The existence of such articles violates the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which Kuwait signed and ratified in 1994.
On September 19, 2020, the Kuwaiti National Assembly approved the Law on Protection from Domestic Violence after the horrific murder of Fatima Al-Ajmi, who was shot by her brother while she was in intensive care, to which she was transferred because of her earlier gunshot wounds.
While this law has not yet been enacted, it contains serious loopholes. It does not frame penalties as being due to domestic violence as a crime in itself, nor does it include former partners or those who had relationships outside of official marriage.
Regarding this law, lawyer Israa Al-Amiri said: “We submitted a project to the General Secretariat for Planning, which is a guide for the application of the Law on Protection from Domestic Violence, stating how to train state employees in the ministries of health, education and social affairs. As well as how to discover cases of violence, and thus improve the services provided to the victim/survivor. Some cases of violence can first be detected at school or in the hospital. In addition to training the men who work in the ministry of Interior Affairs on how to receive communications, and how to activate the role of shelters. There is no point in reporting if the only procedure followed is for the abuser to sign a pledge and then return with his victim to the same house. Also, training men in the judiciary system on the effects of psychological and physical trauma on the short memory, so that they know how to deal with the different statements of the victim/survivor in the investigations.”
Challenges and obstacles to protecting women in Kuwait
There are several challenges facing human rights and women’s rights activists in particular, in raising and addressing the issue of violence in Kuwait, including gender bias on the part of police officers who discourage women from filing complaints about domestic or sexual violence. This led to women’s lack of confidence in the public authorities and in the effectiveness of the protection provided to them.
Asmaa (a pseudonym) says to “Sharika Walaken”: “My sister and I were threatened with death by a member of our family. He attacked us with a knife because he didn’t agree to us going abroad alone. I did not hesitate for a moment to turn to the security authorities, and as soon as they arrived I was falling apart, but I was surprised by the security men acting indifferently, smoking and laughing, ignoring a death threat that has a 99% chance of happening. At this moment, I remembered the crime of Taima, the girl who called the security men for help, but her complaint was met with the same indifference.
Asmaa added: “We went to the police station, and they tried to persuade us from registering a case and to go home or to the home of one of our relatives. After our insistence, we met the female prosecutor, and she took our statements and said that this incident is not considered domestic violence.” Asmaa and her sister waited until the change of shift and the arrival of another officer, who asked them about where they traveled to and expressed more interest in that than in the complaint itself.
Asma confirmed that “when we refused to answer his question and told him that we traveled because we are legally entitled to do so, he mocked the term ‘legally’ and threatened us that he would not register the complaint unless we responded to him.”
Asma’s experience did not end here. After the officer refused to register the complaint, they tried to find the phone number of the female prosecutor and called her. She, too, did not seem concerned with the danger they faced. She said to them: “What gives you the right to search for my number and call me? I will contact the officer,” and ended the call. The case was not registered, and the two sisters returned home without anyone following up on their case or even checking on their condition, despite the recent increase in crimes.
“The reporting experience was very bad and made me lose hope in change and in holding the perpetrator accountable. It is not surprising that murder cases are increasing, since reports of abuse are not taken seriously or even paid attention to. I am really thinking of emigrating from here, because I don’t feel safe,” Asmaa said.
There are many challenges facing girls and women from reaching protection and safety. Most notably, Al-Amiri said that “it is represented in the lack of sufficient funding to specialize and dedicate oneself to the study of gender and the development of specialized and accurate research. All the efforts currently being made are individual actions and initiatives of people who had the opportunity to study and present research on the matter. In addition, we face a lack of statistics or numbers, and therefore it is difficult to develop appropriate solutions.”
She also pointed out that “there are laws that restrict freedoms and also make it difficult to talk about gender issues, because they are considered sensitive in a patriarchal society governed by customs and traditions, which consider talking about these issues taboo.”
She added that “there is no coordination between civil society organizations in working on the issue, and some activists are classist in their approach, as some opposed the idea of paying salaries to housewives, but they do not understand that there are uneducated women who cannot work and are in urgent need of financial independence.”
Violence against women in Kuwait
These are the causes and roots of violence
The roots of the problem of violence against women are directly related to the patriarchal stereotype of their social role. Women are expected to be weak, while men are expected to be strong, violent, and controlling of women. Acceptance of these concepts and the imbalance of power between the sexes, makes the dominance of men over women a normal matter. No one denounces controlling women’s bodies and their personal choices, or even resorting to violence as a means of resolving conflicts or problems.
Social class also plays an important role in the issue of violence in societies in general and violence against women in particular.
Poverty exposes women to forced marriage at an early age and deprivation of education, and thus the difficulty of obtaining a job and achieving financial independence. That is why many women are silent about the violence they are exposed to behind closed doors, because they have no other choice.
Regarding the procedures and measures that she believes are a priority to reduce this violence in the region, Israa said, “There is a legislative shortcoming, yes, but it is only part of the solution to this problem. For example, the Women’s Political Rights Law was passed in 2005, but so far there is no actual participation of women in it, because there is no cultural change, and therefore there is no change on the ground.”
She pointed out, “It is important to train all sectors of the state, starting with the Ministry of Education, by working to change the stereotypical image of social roles that are entrenched in the subconscious. Change begins with the development of curricula by specialists, which in turn are able to program the mind on gender justice, passing through the Ministry of Health and its important role in detecting cases of violence and issuing serious medical reports, down to the role of the Ministry of Affairs in providing safe shelters for victims/survivors, and ending with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Its members must be trained on how to receive reports, provide safe ways to report, protect women and girls after submitting a report, and provide female police officers to investigate abused women and psychologists to deal with them.”
In a study by the Ministry of Justice on cases of assault and violence against women during the period from 2000 to 2009, which is considered the only one of its kind, it was stated that the average number of cases submitted to the Public Prosecution Offices amounted to 367 cases annually, which is approximately one case per day. The average number of defendants is 532 per year, classified according to the charge. The average number of defendants in crimes called “indecent assault by coercion or threat” reached 136 people during the years included in the study. Followed by the charge of battery, with an average of 126 accused. The number of those accused of kidnapping under duress with the intent of extortion has also reached an average of only one accused during these years.
The study predicted that the average number of cases would increase annually from 2010 to 2014 to reach a maximum of 656 cases, or 178%, and that the number of accused would increase to 1153 annually.
The lack of adequate studies and statistics remains the most difficult thing to shed light on this issue, understand it, and identify the groups most vulnerable to violence. When we talk about violence against women in Kuwait, we talk about Kuwaiti, Bidoon, and resident women, whatever their status. Although the study confirmed the increase in this violence and these issues, it seems that there is no interest in continuing these studies, even with the increase in cases of violence and murders, which increased significantly during the years 2020 and 2021.
It is possible that one of the factors affecting the conduct of the studies is the failure to take the reports seriously, which makes it difficult to register any case, in light of the culture of “shame, silence and honor.”
Therefore, the issue of violence against women in Kuwait faces an outright denial on the pretext that Kuwaiti women are luxurious and that the crimes that occurred are considered isolated cases. This confirms that Kuwaiti women have a long struggle ahead of them to overcome all forms of discrimination and violence directed at them.
In Kuwait, women and girls are killed for reasons that are considered self-evident human rights such as studying, working, or choosing a life partner, and sometimes without any reason at all. All of this leads us to one fact, which is that we as girls and women lack a sense of safety, confidence and protection. We feel let down by everyone. And just as Amal was not the first girl to resort to emergency services to prove the violence she was subjected to without result, she certainly won’t be the last.