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Women Empowerment in Kuwait

23 February 2020

Article 7 of the Constitution of Kuwait recognizes the principal of equality of all Kuwaiti citizens while Article 8 stresses on equal opportunities for all Kuwaiti citizens. Article 29 of the Kuwait constitution affirms that "All people are equal in human dignity and in public rights and duties before the law". Thus, equality of women alongside men is enshrined in the Kuwaiti constitution.
From the 17th century until the discovery of oil in the 1950s, the economy of Kuwait was largely dependent on maritime trade. While men were seafaring, Kuwaiti womenfolk managed their homes and controlled family affairs and finances. Urban, upper class women participated in a limited scale in public sphere. After the discovery of oil in Kuwait, the country's economy improved greatly creating new and increased opportunities for the citizens and for women in Kuwait it ushered in a sea of changes. One particular area where opportunities opened up for women was in education. The 17th century had marked the beginning of women's education in Kuwait with girls beginning to learn the Holy Scripture when the first Quranic School was set up in 1916. This paved the way for Kuwaiti women to strive for jobs as religious instructors. Realizing the importance of formal education, the first private school for girls opened in 1926 and the first public school was set up in 1937. By the 1940s many young Kuwaiti girls got enrolled in primary schools. Women began to voice their rights for advanced educational opportunities both at home and abroad. Article 40 of the constitution guarantees the education rights of the women. It states "Education is a right for Kuwaitis guaranteed by the State". By the 1950s, women's access to education and subsequently to employment increased dramatically. Girls from affluent families even ventured for overseas education. The Kuwaiti government has been patronizing female education as a means of attaining its development goals and consequently, government investment on female education increased significantly. This increase was a result of the conscious government policy to open windows of opportunities for women to play a greater role in nation building.
Women in Kuwait are among the most emancipated women in the Middle East region. They have a long history of official, political and social activism which started in the early 1960s and continues till today. To give shape to this activism, the first women's Organization, the Arab Women's Renaissance Association was founded by Noureya Al-Saddani in 1962 followed soon by the Women's Cultural and Social Society in 1963. In 1975, Nadi Al Fatat, the Girls Club was established with its initial focus on encouraging women in sport. In 1981, Bayader As Salam was formed to nurture cultural awareness. The same year the Sheikha Latifa Al-Sabah's Islamic Care Association was formed to help spread Islamic lifestyle and conduct.
Kuwait's long tradition of artistic expression has been spearheaded and organized by women whose involvement in the Fine Arts dates back to the late 60s when the Sultan Gallery was opened by Najat Sultan with her brother's cooperation. It was the propagator of contemporary and secular movements in Arab Arts. Sheikha Hussah Al Sabah set up Dar al Athar al Islamiyah in 1983 and Dar al Funoon, a Gallery for Contemporary Art in 1992.
As a result of this strong endeavor by enterprising Kuwaiti women who were also patronized their access to education and employment increased dramatically. Women's issues including women's diverse roles in society have steadily grown in prominence and Kuwaiti women are thought to be moving towards modernization at a faster pace in the region. With the establishment of Kuwait University in 1965, more and more Kuwaiti women availed the opportunity to pursue higher education. In Kuwait, the tertiary education enrolment rate for women is higher than that of men. In 2011, Kuwait was ranked highest among all Arab countries in gender equality in the Human Development Report's Gender Inequality index. In 2013, 53% of Kuwaiti women participated in the labor force. In 2014 and 2015, Kuwait was ranked first among the Arab countries in the Global Gender Gap Report. This respect for the rights of women is further strengthened by the adherence of Kuwait to both the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 26 of the Covenant states that "All people are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law".
The participation of Kuwaiti women in the labor force is much higher than the regional GCC average. Kuwait has the highest percentage of working female citizens in the GCC and they outnumber men in the workforce. According to a 2013 survey, 54.24% of the Kuwaiti labour force was women. Article 41 stipulates that "Every Kuwaiti has the right to work and to choose the type of work". His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, categorically affirmed that "Kuwait directs growing attention to foster women's rights and their role in the society".
Many factors like economic growth, contemporaneous and intergenerational spillovers in human capital accumulation, enhanced international, regional and domestic competitiveness and a favourable balanced market have led to the increased empowerment of women in Kuwait. Women in Kuwait worked side by side with their male compatriots and succeeded in proving themselves at all levels. Kuwaiti women are seen in numerous leadership positions in the bureaucracy, University, Diplomatic assignments, and the print media. Official data show that Kuwaiti women occupy 10.3% of leadership positions in the public sector in 2011.
Women's activism was put to test during the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The courageous role of Kuwaiti women during the 1990 Kuwaiti ordeal is a shining example of valor and patriotism demonstrated by Kuwaiti women through their resistance of the invasion by neighboring Iraq. They mobilized the opposition to the occupation and started an underground resistance paper called 'Al-Kuwaitiya'. They carried weapons and ammunitions through Iraqi checkpoints, transported and planted explosives, collected and distributed food and medicine and ran shelters for the sick and the disabled. Defying all restrictions and prohibition, they organized large demonstrations and some of them embraced martyrdom in defence of their motherland. In recognition of their patriotic role and great sacrifice, the Jeddah Conference of October 1990 unanimously voted to grant Kuwaiti women the constitutional right of equality in the decision making process and equal powers at the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government.
All these, along with the entry of women into the labour market, their participation in economic activities as well as their activities in different organizations related to the promotion of Art and culture of the country created strong conditions for their eventual integration in the political process.
As part of their equality status, Kuwaiti women had since 1971, been involved in a movement for obtaining women suffrage. The first bill for women suffrage was tabled in parliament in 1973 but it took over three decades for parliament to grant women the right to vote and run for an elected office. Kuwaiti women acquired Organizational experience and skills by playing active roles in various reform movements. These splinter movements had a catalytic effect on their campaign for suffrage. In the early 1990s the campaign for political rights intensified and His Highness Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the then Amir of Kuwait, while recognizing the role of the Kuwaiti women during the Liberation struggle, promulgated a decree granting women suffrage. However, it was not until May 2005 that the women earned the suffrage. For the first time in Kuwait's history, 28 women contested in the June 2006 Parliamentary elections. Four years later, four women were elected to the Parliament for the first time.
Women in Kuwait are enjoying greater empowerment due to their proactive role in different aspects of the Kuwaiti society, particularly in the fields of education, social development, arts and culture, cadre services and politics.

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