ENGAGING YOUTH IN DIALOGUE
In March 2019, Abolish153 started a new initiative of engaging the youth in a dialogue about the laws and women's rights in Kuwait. The first session took place on International Women's month in partnership with a local youth organization called Inspirational Hangout. It gathered 55 young men and women professionals and students. The purpose of the session was to raise awareness on gender issues that affect the everyday lives of women and engage young leaders in discussions on human rights, gender issues, and the importance of women's empowerment.
The session highlighted three policies that discriminate against women:
- The Penal Code – Articles 153, 182 and 29;
- The Labor Law – Articles 24 and 22; and
- The new Mental Health Law.
On Articles 153, 182 and 29: These laws allow men kin who surprise their mother, sister, daughter or wife in an unsavory sexual (zinna) act with a man and kill 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 (KD 14).
Article 24 states that women cannot be employed in jobs that “violate their morals and social expectations of their femininity.” And that women shall not be employed in institutions which provide services exclusively for men. Similarly, article 22 states that it is prohibited to employ women at night during the period from 10 PM to 7 AM. This excludes hospitals, sanatoriums, private treatment homes and establishments in respect of which a resolution by the Minister of Social Affairs and Labor shall be issued.
The new Mental Health Law states that no person can be diagnosed with a mental illness based on cultural, social, political or financial status. Nor because they belong to any specific cultural, racial or religious group. Nor, in fact, for any other reason that is not directly relevant to their actual mental health status.
After the informational session, the discussions were rich. The audience listened and shared relevant personal anecdotes. Abolish153 team members cited cases of abused and battered women that they have dealt with over the years. The group discussed the portrayal of women in these laws, why they were in place, and next steps to amending or implementing them. In addition, the leadership of ASAP Initiative, an NGO that aims to destigmatize mental health and make it more accessible to women and men in Kuwait, was present and highlighted the disproportionately negative effects of that stigma that falls on women. A label of “mentally ill” can be devastating to women in Kuwait, all but crippling her and stripping away her rights to be an active and productive member of her community.
It's interesting to note that some attendees believed that these laws were in place as a result of culture and tradition and that removing such laws requires a cultural revolution, or change in mindset. What's most interesting is that the vast majority of the participating audience was not aware that such laws existed, and vouched to raise awareness on this gender issue in their own spaces.
YOUTUBE (October 2018)
Athraa Al-Refaie, a WPP leader and lawyer for Abolish 153 launched her own Youtube channel and called it “IWISH TV: من حقي أن أفهم" which stands for “it is my right to understand.” The launch of the channel was a direct response to the Kuwait Action Plan after the Knowledge Seminar in May 2018. On the channel, Alrefae raises awareness regarding women's rights and equality, women and the economy, and women's issues specific to the Gulf and in particular Kuwait such as the illegality of women owning or renting homes in their names, and obstacles to women reaching decision-making positions. Al-Refaie frequently writes in Al-Qabas newspaper about equality and touches on gender issues in Kuwait and the creation of her YouTube channel expands her audience to accomplish the goal of changing mindsets even further. On the channel, she interviews experts from various sectors to enrich the theme and topics discussed in the videos. The videos are in Arabic. The channel can be viewed at this link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCHPFymyaweZ68dBefLJ1xA
In February 2019, WPP held a play titled, “Kiri Miri,” which is a traditional Kuwaiti saying that loosely translates to upside-down. The play was implemented by Abolish 153 and gathered an audience of 800 people; 500 people on the first day and approximately 300 on the second including some who returned to watch the play again. Abolish 153 aimed to change the traditional mindsets of men and women regarding gender roles throughout the duration of this project and this play contributes to that goal. Kiri Miri had two acts; The first emphasized the economic and social repercussions of early marriage on young women in Kuwait. This issue is raised by the main character, Maryam, a final year student in law school who is pressured by her family to drop out of school to get married. She resists by exposing the cycle of oppression that follows women who are forced to sacrifice their education and professional careers for marital life. The play tackles general and Kuwait-specific social and gender issues such as unemployment among highly educated women, their financial dependence on their male ‘guardians’, and various social ills that arise from these issues such as corruption. The play even pokes fun at social issues such as the overuse of plastic surgery among the more elite in Kuwaiti society, arguing that “small minds only beautify the outside” once they forgo their rights.
The play’s second act highlighted discriminatory policies in Kuwait against women. One policy prevents women from renting hotel rooms without a male guardian’s signed approval, and the other is a policy that forbids Kuwaiti women married to non-Kuwaiti men from bequeathing their nationalities to their children. The audience is introduced to the first policy at a Women and Children’s Rights Conference in a hotel in Kuwait and the arrival of a battered woman and her daughter seeking refuge. She is denied a room due to this policy and the audience is left to imagine the hardships they face returning to their abusive homes, hopeless. The scene continued with an analysis of Kuwaiti laws that discriminate against women and their social and economic consequences in order to raise awareness on Kuwaiti women’s rights. Of the various themes presented, those around discriminatory laws were particularly powerful. This is likely due to the lack of awareness of such laws in Kuwaiti society, says Abolish 153 that advocates for women’s legal rights and access to decision-making positions. In particular, the issue of the policy that prevents Kuwaiti women from bequeathing their nationality to their children if married to a non-Kuwaiti was met with praise from the audience.
Audience reactions: The themes of the play struck a chord with the audience, prompting two members of the audience to write articles in Al-Qabas, a major Kuwaiti newspaper. Asrar Hayat wrote about the lack of support battered women in Kuwait face as was portrayed in the play [link: https://alqabas.com/635563/] and Iman Dashti wrote about the lack of options for women fleeing abuse in Kuwait [link: https://alqabas.com/635890/].
The audience also reacted strongly to an interpretive dance performance set to traditional music during intermission. Tamara Qabazard, a well-known Kuwaiti ballerina, donned a ‘abaya in an emotional performance on the status and roles of women in Kuwaiti society. Tying into the themes of the play-- breaking gender norms and highlighting discriminatory laws and policies, the performance resonated with the audience as Qabazard used the medium of dance to make herself, and the traditions she embodied, visible.