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End of mission statement of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practiceof its visit to Kuwait1

Kuwait City (15 December 2016) – At the end of a 9-day mission to Kuwait, in which the expert group’s delegation, comprised of Alda Facio and Kamala Chandrakirana held meetings in Kuwait City, Hawally and Jahra Governorate, the experts shared their preliminary findings.

We would like to extend our deep appreciation to the Government of Kuwait for inviting us to undertake this official visit and for its remarkable support in its preparation. We would also like to thank all our interlocutors, the public officials, health professionals, representatives of civil society and academia, as well as the private sector, for all these fruitful exchanges.

Context

Kuwait has a distinctive position in the Gulf and globally with its humanitarian leadership. It is a constitutional monarchy with the oldest parliament in the region and a tradition of a lively political culture. As the second richest country in the Gulf, Kuwait’s HDI rank is very high globally and its performance in gender equality ranks high in the region2. However, it has also faced serious challenges. In the past decade, the parliament has been dissolved multiple times due to unresolvable differences with the government and allegations of corruption. Concerns have also been raised over the sustainability of Kuwait’s fiscal policy, which may jeopardize the state’s savings for its future generations. As is the case for other countries in the Gulf region, calls have been made for broad reforms in this area.

Our expert group carried out this visit at a vibrant post-electoral moment,  in  need  for further advancing and deepening reforms in economic, social and political life in order to ensure Kuwait’s continued and sustained progress in development, democracy and human rights in the region. The elimination of discrimination against women in all fields of life is integral to such progress, including in relation to Kuwait’s care economy which functions with predominantly migrant women workers3 in public services and in the home, and in relation to women’s meaningful political engagements in a democratic system. Significant progress in the legal and policy framework in the past decade has been made, particularly in the context of promoting women’s rights. The test, however, lies in Kuwait’s capacity to implement these progressive laws in practice.  Understanding Kuwait’s international legal obligation to eliminate all forms of discrimination against all women in this country is fundamental to ensure progress towards full equality. Kuwait’s legal obligation goes beyond eliminating discriminatory laws, the State is required to guarantee access to equal opportunities in all fields of human activity and to modify social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women based on the idea of the superiority of men or based on stereotypical roles of women or men.

Legal and institutional framework

Kuwait ratified seven of the nine core human rights instruments4 and has demonstrated a strong commitment to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms as shown by its engagement with Treaty Bodies, the UPR, the recent visit of the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking and the acceptance of our visit. Although Kuwait ratified CEDAW in 1994, it made reservations5 concerning citizenship rights and in the family, on the grounds of incompatibility with Sharia. We also regret that Kuwait has still not shown any willingness to ratify the Optional Protocol to CEDAW which would prove the Government’s commitment to implementing CEDAW principles.

The Constitution of Kuwait provides a solid ground to combat discrimination against women, enshrining the principle of equality in its article 29. The Working Group greatly appreciates the role of the Constitutional Court as the defender of this constitutional guarantee through judicial decisions that comply with international human rights standards6.

We commend the efforts made by Kuwait to strengthen its legal framework for the promotion and protection of women’s human rights, starting with the 2005 act conferring women electoral rights. Other new laws, such as on domestic workers, are the first of its kind in the region and demonstrates Kuwait’s leadership in this regard. However, legal provisions that stand on the presumption of women’s dependence on men, particularly in the Personal Status Act, remain unchanged and unchallenged, and have a detrimental impact on women’s equal protection under the law, equal access to public services, and  women’s capacity to build assets and participate in all aspects of national development. In addition, due to the non-compliance of certain legal provisions in the Personal Status Act to international human rights standards, Kuwaiti women do not enjoy equal legal protection as different legal frameworks apply for Sunni and Shia women. Furthermore, there is an abysmal gap in the legal framework with regard to violence against women. Our expert group is encouraged to see that there is expressed interest by certain authorities to give priority to drafting such a law.

 

The Working Group welcomes the adoption of the law creating the Diwan Huquq al Insan as Kuwait’s national human rights institution (NHRI) but we regret that a proposal to include a committee on women’s rights was rejected. We strongly recommend that a special mechanism within the Diwan be set up to ensure that  women’s human rights are given due consideration and are tackled as a cross-cutting issue. We remain hopeful that the NHRI will be established in compliance with the Paris Principles, particularly regarding its capacity for independent monitoring and reporting. This would represent an important achievement in consolidating Kuwait’s institutional framework for the protection of human rights, including women’s rights.

Political and public life
It is only after decades of persistent fight and repeated rejections that Kuwaiti women gained their electoral rights in 2005. This represented a significant  development in the history of Kuwaiti women’s quest for equality.

However, more than a decade later, the number of women in parliament has been minute and decreasing. For their very first participation in the national elections in 2009, women won a historical four seats in a strongly contested vote. The most recent national elections held on 26 November 2016 resulted in one woman parliamentarian elected, which places Kuwait at the bottom of the world ranking7. The number of women who decided to run as candidates also went through a steady decrease from 11.1% in 2006 to 2.5% in 2013. Only 15 women candidates were among the 287 candidates in the last elections, which, represents a slight improvement from the previous elections in 2013. Our group also regretted to learn that no women are represented at the municipal level.

Women face serious barriers in exercising their political rights. Campaigns and voting practices are carried out predominantly through informal or traditional institutions or networks (like the diwaniya), but women´s newly acquired political rights have not yet been fully integrated into these informal settings. Under CEDAW Convention, the State has the obligation to remove all barriers to women´s equal participation in these institutions as well as establishing some type of quota system or taking other affirmative actions for women´s political representation at all levels and branches of government. Taking into account such constrains faced and the recent starting point for women, special support including training and assistance for campaigning is needed to help raise women candidates’ profiles and visibility and facilitate their reach out capacity. This is justified in order to enable women candidates to compete on an equal footing with men. A simple quota system for women’s political representation for all levels and branches of government is necessary but insufficient to ensure the meaningful participation of women in political and public life. An elaborated and determined strategy and plan of action for gender equality and the empowerment of women which includes a full range of temporary special measures will be essential. Our Working Group was informed by several stakeholders that there has been no measure to genuinely support women’s political participation and temporary special measures8, are not well understood and do not enjoy support in the country.

The present Government has only one woman among the 16 ministers. Successive Governments have not had more than two women in the cabinet. Women of Kuwait have amply demonstrated their competence in various professional fields and barriers must be removed in order for them to be an equal partner in the development of the country. Despite their active role in society over decades, women still experience slow career advancement in the public service and face barriers in reaching senior leadership positions. In some sectors such as health, women have been able to make important breakthroughs: women occupy most of the director positions in the Ministry of Health, but only one out of the 12 under-secretaries is a woman. The overwhelming majority of the country’s 100 polyclinics are headed by woman and half of heads of hospitals are women. A ground-breaking pilot project brought 22 women in as prosecutors in November 2014, paving the way for women to become judges after their required services as prosecutors for six years. This positive experience over a period of two years should encourage the authorities to continue the initiative, without interruption,  and keep the door open for future generations.

Women are an integral part of the country’s police force, working in various sectors. Today there are some 358 women in the police, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Interior is a woman and the 49% of the investigation department are women . Kuwait’s diplomatic service has remained relatively closed to women’s entry and advancement until recently. Out of 84 ambassadors, only 2 are women9. Until a 2014 policy reform within the Ministry, women who had gone through the same diplomatic training could only be “political researchers”. Women have now the possibility to be appointed as diplomats further to an entry exam which all applicants have to undertake. Our group was pleased to learn that in 2014, out of five accepted candidates, two were women. We hope that this practice will be sustained and that the status of all women “political researchers” working in the Ministry before 2014 will be given the same fair chances of becoming diplomats.

Women have also been very active in Kuwaiti civil society including in demanding their political rights since the 1970s. However, their ability to form a coordinated movement seems limited by various factors. We hope that the bill, currently being considered by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, would strengthen and promote the free and independent exercise of NGOs working for the promotion and protection of women’s rights. Our expert Group wishes to underline the importance of a vibrant and independent civil society, which plays the role of checks and balances, for the healthy functioning of democracy in Kuwait.

Our Group is encouraged by the Ministry of Youth as a potential driving force for women’s empowerment. We are also encouraged by young women who are actively engaged in public and political life and who are developing their own ways of working, including by using innovative information and communication technology, in order to make their unique voices heard. We are concerned however at reports of repressive measures introduced against certain users of social media, including through the new telecommunications law.

Economic and social life

Women’s participation in economic and social life has been rising over the years and successful working women are increasingly well regarded by most sectors of society. However, women still do not enjoy some elements of the generous package of social allowances afforded to men. The discriminatory provisions in the Personal Status Law undermine the capacity of women to fully participate in Kuwait’s economic and social development. Only men are recognized as heads of households, receiving more social benefits including dependency benefits, which then result in a difference in terms of pension received.

Employment

Women’s labour force participation has increased over the years but less than men10. According to official data, women employed by the State has increased, standing in 2016 at 56.5% and 51% in the private sector. While the unemployment rate is generally low, in 2015, this rate was 5.5% as compared to 4.2% for men. According to statistics received by the authorities, the wage gap currently stands at 38% in the private sector and 28% in the public sector.

We noted with interest that there has been a momentum of legislative initiatives which have had important impact on women’s enjoyment of economic and social rights, including women domestic workers. The 2010/6 Private Sector Labour Law of Kuwait regulates employment in this sector including provisions on working hours, the nature of work, maternal protection and equality of wages. We note with some concern protectionist provisions including special requirements regarding women’s night work. These provisions need to be monitored and evaluated in terms of impact on the employers’ willingness to hire women in view of the extra burden placed upon them. A protectionist approach also tends to deprive women of autonomous and independent choices. 

Maternity leave

With the 70 days paid maternity leave, Kuwait is among the highest in the region, but lags behind in terms of international standards (98 days). We recommend the Government to initiate a process to bring this paid leave to meet the international standards, in view of the State’s overall extensive social protection package and some positive progress in this regard initiated by private companies in the country. Taking into account the experiences of other countries which have introduced paternity leave, the Working Group believes that such a step would have a beneficial bearing on multiple grounds including in breaking stereotyping roles.

Housing

Our group notes positively the enacting of law 2011/2 which has changed the situation where only men were entitled to receive state housing loans. Widows, divorced women, women married to non-Kuwaiti men, and unmarried women over 40 years are now eligible to such housing assistance to buy their own flats. This positive development has opened opportunities for these otherwise excluded women. We were informed however that some women remain excluded from these benefits, namely single women under 40 and married women. We would like to underline the importance of the right to equality which implies that each woman is to be treated as an individual on her own right, rather than as dependent on her husband or father. Furthermore, we were informed that the consent from a man in the family is still required in order for the woman to apply for the housing loan.

Domestic workers

An important part of Kuwait’s labour force is its 600,000 domestic workers, an overwhelming majority of whom are migrant women. Our expert group welcomes the 2015 ground-breaking migrant workers law and the Government’s effort in disseminating it several languages. This law, unique in the region, regulates the labour rights of the domestic worker, including a weekly day off, 30 days of annual paid leave, a 12-hour working day with rest, and an end-of-service benefit of one month a year at the end of the contract. This law however does not provide for the enjoyment of the same labour rights available for Kuwaiti workers as per international standards such as the standard for daily working hours and sick leave provisions, as well as the special protection needs of migrant domestic workers. The law made a step towards prohibiting the confiscation of passports by the employer, but allowing it if the migrant worker agrees.  We regret however the absence of monitoring and enforcement mechanism, which would be of critical importance for the effective implementation of the law. In this regard, our group recommends that the Government ratifies ILO Convention 189 on Domestic Workers.

Our expert group commends the establishment of a pioneering shelter for domestic workers established in 2014, with a capacity for 500 women, which seems to respond to the much needed assistance from these women. However, we heard during our visit appalling accounts of abuses and violence against these workers by employers and regret that perpetrators are not duly prosecuted and sentenced.  We encourage the Government to duly apply sanctions in this regard which would also have a deterrent effect. Our group shares the concerns expressed by the Special Rapporteur on trafficking at the end of her recent visit to Kuwait regarding the Kafala system, which creates a situation of vulnerability by bounding every worker to a particular employer as a sponsor, and abusive and exploitative work relationships.  We fully support her recommendation that the Kafala system should be abolished and replaced by a different regulation, allowing migrant workers to enjoy substantial freedom in the labour market.

Education

Our group commends Kuwait’s major achievements in closing the gender gap in the field of education. Also, continuous efforts undertaken by the Government have considerably brought down the illiteracy rate of women. Parity has nearly been reached in primary school and surpassed in the secondary11. The achievement of women in higher education is significant with more than two third of its tertiary students being women.  Our group was pleased to learn that the President of the public University of Kuwait is a woman.

While recognizing the achievements in the education field, our expert group is concerned that some current practices reinforce stereotypes for the place of women and men in society. Kuwait has a gender segregated educational system in primary and secondary public schools. Some courses are dedicated to girls only such as cooking, sewing and household management. Educational curricula often portray the conservative image of women as housewife and mother.  All teachers in the primary education are women. Our Group is concerned that these practices perpetuate discriminatory stereotypes of women’s role in society and that there is little awareness or recognition of their impact on the empowerment of women and gender equality in society. The gender segregation education was explained to our expert Group as necessary due to religious, cultural and social considerations. We were informed by authorities that human rights are taught in schools from the 12th grade. We would recommend that human rights courses, based on international standards, start at a younger age and include the concept of gender equality and women’s rights.

Our group is concerned that, according to some reports and as part of a minority community, bidoon12 women suffer from multiple and systemic discrimination throughout their life. An important number of these women continue to be excluded from society, facing stigmatisation, having, inter alia, access to poor quality education and health services and constrained job opportunities.  Our expert group is aware that the issue of stateless people or bidoons represents one of the major sources of concern as well as a political and socio-economic challenge for the Government. Despite efforts deployed to regularise the status of an important number of bidoons and granting them with education and access to health care, several stakeholders affirmed that there is a lack of political will to find a sustainable solution. Our group reiterates the concerns expressed by several Treaty Bodies in this regard and emphasises the urgency for all relevant stakeholders to recognise and understand the specific situation of bidoon women.

Family life

Despite impressive high performing professional women in Kuwait, among the elite, we note that the conception still predominates that the role of women should be primarily devoted to the domestic sphere, taking care of children, perpetuated even in core curricula in public schools as demonstrated above.  Kuwait’s efforts to codify family law13 have not overcome the divergences of treatment between Sunni and Shia women which exist in the fields of marriage, child custody, and inheritance. Interpretations and applications of this plural legal system discriminate against women and prevent them from fully participating in many aspects of society, as recognised by diverse stakeholders during our visit.

Progress in changing discriminatory legal provisions against women in political life, social and economic life (such as in employment, access to housing, women with disabilities), has regrettably not been followed in family life. Kuwaiti women face persistent discrimination due to discriminatory provisions in the Personal Status law, including that: (i) Unlike a man, a woman is not free to conclude her marriage contract without a male guardian (wali) to do so on her behalf. (ii) The minimum legal age for marriage is established at 15 for girls and 17 for boys. While, according to some data, only 5% of registered marriages are early marriages14, arranged marriages between families are reportedly still the norm.  (iii) Men are able to divorce their wives unilaterally, while women are permitted to seek a divorce only under specific circumstances (iv) Custody of a child belongs to the father. Upon a divorce, a woman may be granted custody but fathers are generally named legal guardians of the children. Mothers can serve as legal guardians only when authorized by a court decision. This prevents mothers from making decisions for their children and representing them before official bodies, including schools. (v) A man might legally have up to four wives simultaneously, without the permission or even the knowledge of his first wife/wives, although a woman has the right to establish a condition in her marriage contract that her husband will not concurrently marry another woman.  A woman, however,  is  not permitted to file for divorce on the grounds that her husband has married another wife15.

Our group regrets that many of these issues are nearly absent from the public debate. This is particularly unfortunate given Kuwait’s constitutional guarantee of full equality between men and women and in light of its openness to multiple sources of legislation and comparative legal approaches. These foundations, in fact, would provide ample space for public dialogue on this matter, but on the contrary, there seems to be a general marked reluctance to open doors for reforms in the area of family law. As we pointed out in one of our reports, culture is not a static or unchanging concept, although some States tend to present it as such in order to justify discrimination against women and girls. Several United Nations human rights experts, special procedures mandate holders, treaty bodies and the Secretary-General of the United Nations have established that neither cultural diversity nor freedom of religion may justify discrimination against women. Discriminatory and repressive practices against women should be eliminated, whatever their origins, including those founded in culture or religion16.

The Working Group is concerned at the deep sense of unfairness felt among Kuwaiti women who are married to non-Kuwaitis. We regret the use of nationalist arguments as the exclusive means to address the discrimination faced by these women, as it closes down the space for dialogue and effectively denies them the opportunity to benefit from equal access to State benefits. Regarding the Nationality Law, our expert group has already expressed concerns through communications sent to the State in 2014 and 201517, in line with the views of several treaty bodies and several stakeholders. A Kuwaiti woman is not able to pass on her nationality to her non-national husband or children on the same grounds as a Kuwaiti man.   The Nationality Law, drafted prior to the enactment of the Constitution ensuring full equality between men and women, should be amended to recognize Kuwaiti women’s right to confer nationality on spouses and children on par with the right enjoyed by Kuwaiti men and ensure that women have equality before the law.

Right to health

The Working Group was pleased to observe the efforts deployed by the Ministry of Health to ensure access to quality health care to Kuwait’s women citizens and residents. The State provides its citizens with free health care, while other documented residents have to pay a symbolic fee of 1 KD (about USD 3) to benefit from a consultation in a public health center. Subsequent care and medicines are free of charge, including lab analysis and others. Preventive care for women like mammograms and pap smears are free while other residents have to pay for these services.

According to information received, there is a good geographic coverage for health care and  the majority of doctors providing primary care in  polyclinics  are women (but not always so in public hospitals). The group raised concerns at the difficulties that a woman without documentation may face in accessing health care Health workers explained that efforts would be deployed to obtain a form of identification, otherwise, the consultation would cost 3 KD (“visitor fee”) and all subsequent treatments would have to be covered. The expert group is informed that, in some cases involving high expenses, philanthropic organisations have absorbed these costs.

We were also pleased to learn that services in public polyclinics were provided in the same manner to all women, independently from their marital status. The prescription of contraception is provided without necessarily the consent of the man. However, according to information received, surgeries related to the woman’s reproductive system need the consent of the husband, although there is no legal basis for that. The group noted that contraception, while not expensive, is not reimbursed.  We further heard that public health centers stopped the practice of providing free contraception, including emergency contraception, even in case of rape, although emergency contraception can be provided in the forensic services of hospitals or sold upon prescription in pharmacies. Available data on fertility rates in Kuwait vary between 2.1 for all women in the country to 3.5 children for Kuwaiti women18. We have unfortunately not obtained any recent data on the prevalence of contraceptives use during our visit. The last statistics available from 1999 showed a prevalence rate of 52%19. We would like to recall that CEDAW establishes the right for women to control their fertility as well as the findings of our last report to the Human Rights Council stressing that quality in reproductive health requires access, without discrimination, to affordable, quality contraception20. We were pleased however to learn that the adolescent birth rate has decreased: from 26 births per 1,000 girls in 1990 to 10 in 2015.

Our group noted that the issue of abortion is absent from the public debate. We regret the existence of a very restrictive law in Kuwait, criminalising abortion with 3 to 15 years of imprisonment and permitting the termination of a pregnancy under one sole circumstance (“to preserve the life of the pregnant woman21”). As we highlighted in our latest report, evidence-based comprehensive sex education and the availability of effective contraception are essential to lower the incidence of unintended pregnancy, and hence to lower the number of abortions. Indeed, it has been demonstrated that countries where access to information and to modern methods of contraception is easily available and where abortion is legal, have the lowest rates of abortion22. Our group, as well as international and regional human rights bodies have called on States to decriminalize access to termination of pregnancy and to liberalize laws and policies in order to guarantee women’s access to safe services.

During our visit we learned that, migrant workers are required to undergo a blood test verifying whether they have any infectious or transmissible disease (malaria, hepatitis or HIV). If a woman migrant worker is found HIV positive, she is deported back to her country of origin. Our expert group considers this procedure contrary to international human rights standards and should be revised. Appropriate treatment should be provided to all women with HIV/AIDS23.

Violence against women

During our visit, we observed a general silence on the issue of violence against women in the family.  Further to our questions, we were informed that health centers and other counselling services receive regular cases of domestic violence which are rarely reported to the police. The lack of statistics makes it difficult to appraise the extent of this phenomenon. Without a comprehensive law on gender based violence, with specific provisions on domestic violence, it is difficult to facilitate the reporting of cases and to avoid the recourse to amicable settlement which currently predominates. Preservation of family unity often prevails to the detriment of respect for women’s rights. The Penal Code prohibits rape and indecent assault24 but has no provisions for marital rape, domestic violence, or sexual harassment. In the absence of a comprehensive legislation on gender-based violence, women in Kuwait face a human rights violation without access to justice. The comprehensive legislation on child protection, which includes preventive and referral measures and mechanisms as well as proper multi-disciplinary assistance and care (medico-legal and psycho-social) demonstrates the significant change that a law can make. Our expert group recommends that such a model be duly followed to address the issue of violence against women in the family. It is indispensable that the Government establish a comprehensive law on gender-based violence, which could follow the principles of the Istanbul Convention, raise awareness about domestic gender-based violence, establish accessible complaints mechanisms for reporting domestic violence, including hotlines, create sufficient shelters (not a single one in the country) and ensure that complaints are duly investigated and perpetrators prosecuted. We regret that the 2015 draft bill on domestic violence was rejected in the previous parliament. We are encouraged to learn that the Social Development Office and the Ministry of Health would support the presentation of a comprehensive bill in this regard to the new Parliament.

We are also concerned at discriminatory provisions in the Penal Code such as (i) Article 153 which minimises sentences for men in cases of honour killings25 (ii) Article 182 stipulating that the perpetrator of rape can avoid prosecution if he marries the victim26. (iii) Article 194 which criminalises extra-marital relationships by up to three years imprisonment We consider it fundamental for any of these discriminatory provisions to be fully repealed. 

In the visit to women in detention, our expert group learned that the vast majority of women detainees are not nationals, serving very long sentences for robbery, drug abuse and “illegal pregnancy” (up to 15 years). Indeed, as indicated above,extra-marital relationships and adultery are criminalised in the Penal Code (Articles 186-197). The view of the Group, as expressed in a public statement27, is that adultery as a criminal offence violates women’s human rights as with other laws criminalising sexual behaviour. Almost two decades ago, international human rights jurisprudence established that criminalization of sexual relations between consenting adults is a violation of their right to privacy and infringement of article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. States parties to the Covenant are obliged to ensure that domestic norms take account of developments in international law and incorporate interpretations of the decisions of international courts and international and regional human rights mechanisms, including the treaty bodies and special procedures. Furthermore, an important number of women are with their children in the prison, sometimes  until the age of 5 which is contrary to international standards28. Our expert group reiterates the call of the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women to consider systematic alternatives to detention for women, in particular for those who have dependent children29.

Access to justice

Our group was pleased to learn that the Institute for judicial and legal studies train judges and prosecutors on the CEDAW as well as other Human Rights conventions. Although we cannot assess the content and the real impact of these trainings on court decisions, we consider this a positive practice and hope that all judicial and legal actors will be duly trained so as to narrow the gaps between national laws, their interpretation and implementation and human rights standards. We also hope that the appointment of the 22 women prosecutors will lead to improved access to justice for women and a more gender-sensitive justice system.

The establishment of family courts in 2013 to better address family matters and shorten the periods of litigation in personal status cases is to be commended. However, we regretted to learn that judicial decisions of these courts cannot be appealed. While the criminal procedures code provides all residents, regardless of their sex or nationality, with equal access to courts, according to the Personal Status Law, a woman’s testimony is worth half of a man’s.  Fortunately, according to some judicial authorities, this principle is not implemented  in Kuwaiti courts. We also learned that anyone is entitled to free legal assistance and interpretation, which is a very important component of the right to access justice, however, we have no information as to the quality of this assistance. 

During our visit we were also informed that, since 2014, anyone can resort to the Constitutional Court to file a discrimination complaint, even non-Kuwaitis. This is an important step forward in the development of the right to access justice. Unfortunately, during our visit we observed that most women are unaware of their legal rights or what constitutes discrimination against them which contributes to their reluctance to make use of this constitutional recourse.  Furthermore, our group was informed that filing a complaint to the constitutional court amounts to 5000KD (over 15,000$) which prevents equitable access. But, judging from the achievements to date by the Constitutional Court, our group is optimist that continued progress is possible.

Conclusion

Over the past decade, Kuwait has made progress in introducing laws promoting the rights of women, starting from the 2005 law granting women their electoral rights and followed by laws improving women’s position in the workplace and for domestic workers. In spite of this, persistent discriminatory legal provisions remain, particularly in the laws on personal status and nationality as well as the penal code. If not changed, they would undermine the benefit women in Kuwait could gain from these new progressive laws. Women’s capacity to play a full, equal and meaningful role in society will also depend on addressing a gap in the legal framework regarding gender-based violence, by giving priority to plans to develop a law on violence against women.

 

The Constitutional Court has played an important role in repealing discriminatory legal provisions through its rulings following international standards of equality, namely with regard to women’s direct access to passports, freedom to use or not use a hijab, and equal opportunity to higher education. However, Kuwait needs to go beyond piecemeal changes of its discriminatory legal provisions and take concrete and immediate action on a comprehensive review of the laws, in order to maintain its continued progress in ensuring full equality between men and women, as guaranteed by the Constitution and in accordance to the international human rights conventions.

 

Effective independent complaint mechanisms are crucial to ensuring achievement of Kuwait’s goal of equality. A national human rights institution with a clear mandate on women’s human rights would serve Kuwait well in this regard. However, the law on the Diwan is silent on this matter.

 

Alongside Kuwait’s bold efforts to look far into the future, stereotypical ideas about the role of women and men continue to predominate in society. High-performing professional women live and work in parallel spaces with those who espouse the conservative life. Institutions of education seem to be the bastion of conservatism and promote conflicting visions for women, namely solely as wife and mother at the lower levels of schooling, whereas the higher levels encourage diverse careers including in male-dominated industries. While generous services exist for all citizens and residents, differential treatment in practice is commonplace. Kuwait is made up of multiple co-existing realities. Special initiatives are necessary to encourage public dialogue and negotiation, including in cultural space, in order to change discriminatory attitudes and behaviours.  States’ legal obligation with respect to eliminating all forms of discrimination against women includes transforming the roles of men and women based on traditional, cultural or religious ideas of the superiority or higher capacity of men or on stereotypical notions of what men and women can or cannot do. Kuwait’s Women Day, on May 16, should be optimally used as one of the avenues for such efforts.

 

Particular groups of women in Kuwait face multiple and/or systemic discrimination and require special attention in terms of changing laws and practices. Kuwaiti women married to non-Kuwaiti men cannot transmit their nationality to their children which effectively denies them equal access to benefits for their family. There is a lack of recognition and understanding on the multiple and systemic discrimination faced by stateless bidoon women, which undermines the capacity to effectively address their human rights as well as the particular difficulties faced by migrant women.

 

The Working Group is hopeful that Kuwait’s leadership would be able to take the necessary next major steps to maintain progress on women’s human rights. The stakes are high as the country carries out an ambitious economic reform agenda in an increasingly fragile world. Open and public debate on issues deemed controversial is crucial to the country’s forward movement and requires the guarantee of freedom of speech and expression. Kuwait’s reform agendas will benefit from the strengthening of its civil society particularly young women who constitute a large section of the population.

 

Our conclusions and recommendations will be more fully developed in a report to be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2017.

END

The UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice was created by the Human Rights Council in 2011 to identify, promote and exchange views, in consultation with States and other actors, on good practices related to the elimination of laws that discriminate against women. The Group is also tasked with developing a dialogue with States and other actors on laws that have a discriminatory impact where women are concerned.

 

The Working Group is composed of five independent experts. The Current Chair-Rapporteur is Ms. Alda Facio (Costa Rica), Vice-President: and other members are Ms. Kamala Chandrakirana (Indonesia), Emna Aouij (Tunisia) and Ms. Frances Raday (Israel/United Kingdom) Ms. Eleonora Zielinska (Poland),. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/WGWomen/Pages/WGWomenIndex.aspx


Notes:

1. Please note that this mechanism has been established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2010 and is different and complementary to CEDAW Committee (see information at the end of this document)

2. Number 1 in the region  but 117/145 globally according to WEF

3. Migrant workers in Kuwait represent about 60% of the total population

4. It did not ratify the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance as well as the Optional Protocol of CEDAW, the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture and the second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming to the abolition of the death penalty

5. In December 2005, Kuwait lifted its reservation on Article 7 related to women’s political participation.

6. As the decision on the law on passports which used to discriminate against women, on admission in universities, on women barred from benefitting from housing benefits, on freedom to wear the hijab or not in the Parliament and elsewhere)

7. 184/186, IPU

8. As contained in the CEDAW Convention and further elaborated by the CEDAW Committee in its General Recommendation 25

9. One of the them representing the Gulf Cooperation Council.

10. From 35% in 1990 to 44% according to World Bank data. In comparison, men’s participation stood at 78.3% and 83.3% respectively http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.CACT.FE.ZS

11. 49.1% and 51.16% respectively

12. Or stateless, see as illegal residents by the Government

13. Personal Status Law No. 51 of 1984

14. WEF, http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2015/economies/#economy=KWT

15. As stated in one of our reports to the Human Rights Council and as demonstrated in the joint General Comment of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and of the Committee on the Rights of the Child,  polygamy is contrary to the dignity of women and girls and violates their fundamental rights and liberty, including equality and protection within the family. It mainly causes damage to the physical and mental health of wives and their social welfare, property damage and deprivation to wives as well as emotional and property damage to children, often with serious consequences to their well-being. The State Parties to the CEDAW have specific obligations to discourage and prohibit polygamy which is contrary to the Convention. In addition, the CEDAW Committee believes that polygamy has significant consequences on the economic well-being of women and their children.

16. A/HRC/29/40

17. Add link

18. 2015 statistics from Ministry of Health and 2014, statistics from the General Secretariat of the Supreme Council for Council and Development

19. UNICEF 1999

20. A/HRC/34/44

21. Article 175 of the Penal Code

22. See also http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20600&LangID=E

23. See also  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16872&LangID=E

24. Article 186

25. Although honour killings are rare in Kuwait, we consider it fundamental for any discriminatory law to be repealed. 

26. “A kidnapper escapes punishment if he marries the girl he kidnapped if the marriage is approved by her guardian” (Article 182)

27. http://newsarchive.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12672&LangID=E

28. See Bangkok rules: http://www.un.org/en/ecosoc/docs/2010/res%202010-16.pdf

29. A/68/340 http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/68/340