Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

kuwait28606_wideweb__470x311,0 The pages of history reveal the anguish, sweat and tears that women throughout the ages have suffered in winning suffrage rights from often male-dominated societies. Hard-fought, and eventually won, battles have been waged from the sunny coastlines of California all the way to the villages of France and back again. And, despite our extremely advanced technological age that has morphed the depths of our world into the palms of our hands, many women across the globe are still fighting for their rights.

One such country, where women have seen great progress in the area of women’s suffrage rights, is the tiny gulf State of Kuwait. Kuwaiti women won the right to vote and participate in parliamentary elections way back in 2005. However, it would take another 4 years for Kuwaiti women to circumvent political roadblocks intentionally put in their path and assert their right to participate in the inner workings of government. In 2009, Kuwaiti women cheered from their balconies and congregated in the streets to congratulate one another over no less than four Kuwaiti women being voted into the Kuwaiti parliament.

However, since that one sweet victory, women’s suffrage in Kuwait has come to a screeching halt. This past Monday, Kuwaiti women seized the opportunity of International Women’s Day to lodge a public complaint. The primary area of contention is the fact that Kuwaiti women are not allowed to become judges. And most are prevented from being promoted to higher positions in the government. Quite notably only 17 Kuwaiti women hold high-ranking government posts as opposed to 252 positions held by their male counterparts.

At a special symposium held to commemorate International Women’s Day in Kuwait, Kuwaiti women showed up in force to demand answers in an all too public forum. Kuwaiti women, ranging from lawyers to housewives, stood up to allow their voices to be heard. Gender discrimination was on the tip of all of the women’s tongues as the Kuwaiti government was branded too conservative and resistant to change. One speaker, a lawyer named Salwa al-Ajmi, told the symposium, “I have been working as a lawyer for the past 32 years but still I cannot become a judge. It is shameful that the government has accepted and signed international treaties banning discrimination against women and still bars females from becoming judges.”

The symposium also highlighted other areas where Kuwaiti females face gender discrimination and lack basic human rights which should be an embarrassment to a country that, at least on paper, purports to uphold the rights of women within its borders. For example, Kuwaiti women who choose to marry a non-Kuwaiti are legally barred from giving their children or even their husband the Kuwaiti nationality, which comes with countless financial perks and benefits from the government. Contrastingly, Kuwaiti males enjoy full nationality rights regardless of whom they marry. As a result, Kuwaiti women cannot receive a free home from the government or monthly social welfare payments for their children that, once again, Kuwaiti males benefit from.

All hope is not lost as a female member of parliament, MP Rula Dashti, used the symposium as an opportunity to announce her plans to draft a new gender equality bill that she will present at the next session of the Kuwaiti Parliament.  The timing could not be riper for Kuwaiti women to make headway with at least some of the rights they are after, as the Kuwaiti government is trying to amp up its global reputation as a beacon of human rights appreciation.

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The Bachelor City

December 11, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan- MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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The phrase ‘hired help’ takes on an extreme meaning in the Gulf with just about everyone, who is anyone, employing a bevy of service workers to fulfill their every whim. The majority of the workers are males hailing from Southeast Asia who leave their homelands in the hope for a better life in the oil rich region where they earn a meager living, which they send back to their families. They are garbage collectors, office tea boys, stockists, chauffeurs, janitors and are basically ‘jack-of-all-trades’ in every sense. They do the work that no one else wants to do and keep the Gulf nations running smoothly. Without this source of cheap labor, the current construction and economic boom in the region would come to a screeching halt.

However, the side effect of importing laborers from other nations is that there is an abundance of bachelors residing in residential areas, which often causes problems for families and the community as a whole. Nowhere is this more evident than in the State of Kuwait. According to recent research conducted in the tiny Gulf nation, bachelors are responsible for the bulk of crime in the country with theft and sexual assault topping the list of transgressions. It comes as no surprise that the so-called bachelors have turned to crime when they have limited opportunities in Kuwait, zero chance of promotion in their menial jobs and are lucky if they are paid their salary on time or at all. Some have no choice but to dig through the garbage to earn money from recyclables as their ‘payday’ is unreliable.

The issue of the bachelors has long been a sticking point in the Kuwaiti Parliament with MP’s from every district highlighting citizen complaints about the bachelor’s crimes and presence on the streets into all hours of the night. This past week the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MSAL) announced plans to construct a ‘bachelor city’ to house the ever-growing number of unattached men in the country. The first complex will be built in Sabhan city. It will cover 60,000 square meters and accommodate an estimated 3,000 laborers. The second complex, still in the planning stage, will cover 1000 square meters and house an estimated 9,000 workers. Both complexes will contain entertainment facilities and basic service businesses, like mini-grocery stores and barber shops. The governmental aim is to relocate all bachelors from the residential areas of Kuwait into their very own city to limit the opportunities for crime and to appease residents.

However, it remains to be seen if the idea will be a success or a failure with many bachelors up in arms for being forced to leave the only homes they have known since they landed in Kuwait. Many are law-abiding citizens whose only crime is that they are labeled as menaces to society simply because of the actions of other bachelors. The bachelors will be bused to and from their places of work in every city of Kuwait each day and return to their own city at night.

When asked about the plan for the bachelor’s city, Muhammad Amin, who is a Pakistani bachelor and day laborer said, “I think it is wrong to blame all bachelors for the problems of the country. The finger-pointing should be directed to the recruiting agencies who hire us from abroad. Moving us all to one city is not going to solve any problems and will cause anger amongst us for being kept away from society as if we are lepers.”

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