Kuwait's women are dying in silence as femicide cases soar

Kuwait's women are dying in silence as femicide cases soar
6 min read
25 October, 2021
Violence against women is an entrenched problem in Kuwait. Three high profile murder cases over the summer show that this systemic violence is increasingly leading to murder, prompting activists to amplify their calls for change.

Cases of femicide in Kuwait are rising relentlessly, and, more often than not, a close relative or spouse is the perpetrator. This is galvanising feminist and women's rights activists to mount protests demanding that the National Assembly impose stricter laws to punish the perpetrators of violence, and for the security services to take decisive measures.

This follows accusations that Kuwaiti police habitually turn a blind eye in cases of domestic violence, for example by refusing to document the details of the crime or by forcing women subjected to violence to sign reconciliation contracts with their abusers.

Three murders in two weeks

On 24 August 2021, a man killed his wife's mother (68) by shooting her three times after he chased her and his wife on the Istablat al-Ahmadi highway in southern Kuwait. He was arrested by security officers on the outskirts of Wafra city on the Saudi Arabian border.

"Cases of femicide in Kuwait are rising relentlessly, and, more often than not, a close relative or spouse is the perpetrator"

Three days later, a man stabbed and killed his wife in Ardiya (central Kuwait) after beating her. He then handed himself over to the police. A third murder witnessed by Kuwait in the same two weeks saw a young man from the Bidoon community stab his sister in the Taima' neighbourhood of Al Jahra province in northern Kuwait. 

This was after his discovery that she had sought help from the police after he locked her up for two months. He found this out when police officers knocked at his door and informed him that his sister had made a complaint against him. Immediately shutting and locking the door, he stabbed and killed her in a rage, before the police managed to break in and arrest him.

These were not the only cases of femicide in Kuwait this year. There was the young Syrian who murdered both his Kuwaiti mother and a policeman who tried to stop him as he was fleeing in his car. He was then shot dead by security officers while resisting arrest.

Kuwait's women are dying in silence as femicide cases soar
Kuwaiti women carry a banner during a rally to denounce violence against women, outside the National Assembly, in Kuwait City, 22 April 2021 [Yasser Al-Zayyat/AFP via Getty Images]

There was also the murder of Farah Akbar, a teacher, who was stopped with her children, kidnapped and killed in a case dubbed the Sabah Al-Salem crime. The young killer was issued with a death sentence for kidnap, murder and harbouring intent to kill.

Feminist rights activists have taken to social media, organising online protests and campaigns, and some of them have also hit the streets to raise their voices about the epidemic of violence against women.

Others have established pressure groups demanding the abolition of Article 153 of the Kuwaiti penal code, published in 1960, which states that "if a man catches his wife, daughter, mother or sister in an extramarital sexual act and kills them immediately and/or the person who is with them, he will be punished with a prison sentence of no more than 3 years and/or the paying of a fine" – this is a much reduced sentence than the punishment for murder in Kuwait.

"Kuwaiti society's deeply patriarchal culture reinforces gender stereotypes and roles and this societal mindset is the basis of the crimes we are seeing against women"

Many women's rights activists however point out that the crimes which are increasingly being seen in Kuwait are not honour crimes which Article 153 could even be applied to: "What we are seeing is that domestic violence has become so extreme that it is resulting in murder again and again - all this is springing from the patriarchal system".

Esra Alamiri, women's rights activist and researcher says to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication that "Kuwaiti society's deeply patriarchal culture reinforces gender stereotypes and roles and this societal mindset is the basis of the crimes we are seeing against women.

"Alongside this is the weakening of those state institutions which should be raising social awareness on gender discrimination and justice for women - they aren't providing effective mechanisms by which women can be protected". 

Alamiri criticises the laws, policies and practices which foster gender-based violence. She puts the silence of the political elite and National Assembly members and their weak condemnation for what they refer to as "crimes of passion" down to the fact that cases concerning women are not a priority for them, and matters of gender justice do not appeal to the majority of voters.

"In fact, if they were to raise their heads above the parapet on this issue it could lead to their expulsion because it would go against the grain of the prevailing culture. The state's role should have been to challenge this culture and provide an impetus for change - instead it effectively fosters these kinds of acts and gives them its blessing".

Several National Assembly member from the Islamic and conservative blocs condemned the killings, while Saleh Al-Mutairi, a former MP who was appointed a member of the (all-male) parliamentary Women's Committee in 2020, stated that he will suggest a new proposal to abolish Article 153, and call for stricter laws regarding violence against women.

"If they were to raise their heads above the parapet on this issue it could lead to their expulsion because it would go against the grain of the prevailing culture. The state's role should have been to challenge this culture and provide an impetus for change"

Many feminist activists believe that there is another reason for parliament's silence. Similar crimes against women take place in the conservative tribal and Bedouin areas which many MPs are from, and they are reluctant to confront this issue with the tribal representatives in these regions.

Despite the fact that the National Assembly did pass a domestic violence law in 2020, which called for a variety of protective measures, such as swift police intervention when they are informed of domestic violence, and giving protection to any woman or child who asks for protection from their family, these are still not being applied in reality.

Academic Noura Almoutairi says: "Women are dying in silence. They are being subjected to domestic violence and assaults daily and we are seeing deaths every month. At the same time girls are going out into the squares under the blazing sun to protest against their unbearable reality, but the state doesn't care, and doesn't want to do anything about it".

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She adds: "We demand that the security services start dealing with this seriously, instead of not even recording these cases in order to protect men, and that strict laws be imposed in the area of women's rights, as is the situation in more progressive states".

However, Alamiri warns that "amending laws and policies without working to change the culture is futile, because the law and the culture go hand in hand - both need to change".

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.