Kuwait’s wave of femicides

Summary: the murder of women in Kuwait in so-called honour killings exposes a political system and a society that remains largely indifferent to gender-based violence.

We are grateful to Nour al-Mukhled for today’s newsletter. Nour is a Kuwait-based activist concerned with women rights and political justice. She is the project manager of the Abolish 153 campaign and a consultant at the Ibtkar Political Consultancy.

As sexual harassment and gender-based violence demonstrations are taking centre stage worldwide, Kuwait is also witnessing one of its own. While Kuwaiti women have been fighting for their rights for decades, the latest movement was sparked after three women were murdered in a span of two weeks. The first woman was shot dead by her nephew, the second was stabbed to death by her husband, and the last woman was beheaded by her brother.

Kuwait femicides
Recent killings of women in Kuwait have intensified calls for greater protection for women from violence and harassment [photo credit: Twitter]
In addition, during the past two years alone, six women have had their lives taken most commonly by their male kin but sometimes by other men. The women have been reduced to mere statistics thrown around to point out the rise of killings, without investigating the cause of their murder or providing insight into these high profile cases.

The Family Protection Law, which passed in Kuwait’s National Assembly in August of 2020, calls for the establishment of a National Family Protection Committee that would put measures in place to tackle the spread of domestic violence in Kuwait. The law also stipulates that those taking part in the family protection sector should undergo the necessary training and that there be the activation of a domestic violence shelter which should also offer rehabilitation and advisory services to survivors of domestic violence.

At the time it was hailed as a victory, one that abolished Article 153 which treated honour killings as a misdemeanour with a maximum three year prison sentence and/or a small fine for the perpetrator. Experts argued that it all but legalised honour killings.

Despite being passed more than a year ago, the Family Protection Law remains nothing but merely ink on paper and the failure to protect women from being victims of domestic violence continues unabated.

The absence of such protection is what ended Farah Hamza Akbar’s life earlier this year.  In April, Farah was gruesomely killed by a man she had previously filed two cases against for kidnapping and attempted murder. The perpetrator, Fahad Subhi Mohammed who had been stalking her but was not known to her or her family, crashed into Farah’s car, kidnapped her and her two daughters, and stabbed her in the chest before dumping her body in front of a hospital, leaving her there to die.

Dana Akbar, Farah Akbar’s sister and lawyer, shared  a video on social media saying that she had warned the prosecutor several times her sister’s life was in danger. According to Dana, her sister’s perpetrator attempted to kidnap and harm Farah on multiple occasions. He was detained twice but released on bail each time. Mohammed was out on bail when he killed Farah.

The heinous crime sent shock waves across Kuwait, resulting in a large protest although it was the height of summer and took place during an afternoon of the holy month of Ramadan. The protesters called for reforming existing laws, putting in place better protection mechanisms for victims of violence and actually enacting the Family Protection Law.

The debate following Farah’s death served to amplify the anti-sexual harassment movement already brought into prominence early in the year, when the influential fashion blogger Ascia al-Shammari posted a powerful video venting her fury about the horror of being car chased by men, a common form of harassment in Kuwait. She called for a mechanism to report sexual harassment, saying “it is a necessary step in this country so I don’t understand when you say you are against it.”

The video went viral on social media platforms, provoking many women to comment and leading to ‘culturally-sensitive’ conversations about sexual harassment and gender-based violence.

Following al-Shammari’s video, social media awareness campaign #Lan_Asket (I will not be silent) was launched by medical doctor Shayma Shamo and served as a virtual safe space that gave women the opportunity to share anonymous testimonies of harassment or abuse, encouraging more women to speak up.

But the outrage that took place and the different hashtags only resulted in empty promises made by several members of parliament. Former MP Yousef al-Fadhala (who resigned from Parliament in April) proposed a government sponsored mobile app designed to document and register instances of harassment. Meanwhile, MP Dr. Abdulaziz al-Saqabi proposed an amendment to the penal code, adding punishments that include up to a year in prison and a fine of 3,000 KWD. Lastly, MP Abdullah al-Mudhaf proposed adding punitive measures to the penal code with a three-month window for the executive branch to activate these laws.

Almost eight months later, none of the aforementioned proposals has been acted upon.

However in late September, the Minister of Commerce and Industry and the Chairman of the Public Authority for Manpower, Abdullah al-Salman, issued directives to end discrimination in the private sector and criminalize harassment in the workplace. While this step is long overdue, it is a promising one towards establishing a safer work environment for women. Yet there remains much to do.

A recent statement from the male-only Women, Children and Family Affairs parliamentary committee suggests that femicide is not a legislative issue but a societal one, while adding that preventing violence against women is a governmental responsibility. This muddled and inadequate response, especially when the country is witnessing a disturbing increase in femicide, is not nearly enough.

Despite having a vocal parliament and a free press, in comparison to its Gulf neighbours, Kuwait lags behind when it comes to enacting legislation to protect the lives of its women.  More than one year and six lives later, we still see the offhand attitude in parliament and society toward violence against women, a convenient way of condoning this tragedy without condemning and holding accountable those responsible.

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