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August 9, 2007 Special Dispatch No. 1674

In Kuwait, Public Protest Against Law Banning Women From Working Nights

August 9, 2007
Kuwait, The Gulf | Special Dispatch No. 1674

The Kuwaiti parliament recently passed a law banning women from working between eight PM and seven AM except in the medical sector. The law further bans women from engaging in work in which they would use their femininity in a way that is "counter to general moral values," or from working in businesses providing services for men only.

Some MPs say that the law is for the woman's own good, as it is "designed to protect her honor, to give her an appropriate work atmosphere, and to keep her away from work that is counter to morality."[1]

The law's ratification gave rise to vehement protest from political and social activists, and from MPs. They called on the Kuwaiti ruler to abolish the law, which they said discriminated against women and contradicted the Kuwaiti constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Kuwaiti Health Minister Dr. M'asuma Al-Mubarak herself said that the law was "discriminatory towards women,"[2] while the chairman of the Kuwaiti Human Rights Association criticized the law, saying, "The new law is a black mark in the history of the MPs, of all positions"[3]

Former MP Abdallah Al-Nibari explained, "There is a culture that sees the woman as something shameful, as an inferior creature, and it leads to legislation that strives [to actualize] this view and to remove the woman from the labor market." He added, "There is disagreement between us and the Islamic stream that wants to Islamicize legislation and thus retard development."[4]

The Kuwaiti media also protested against the change in the law. Many articles were harshly critical of the damage being done to women's freedoms on the pretext of "protecting morality and women's honor." Likewise, columnists warned of the possible economic damage to Kuwaiti society that would result from restricting women's work hours, and called on Kuwaiti citizens to act to abolish the changes in the law.

The following are the highlights of the criticism in the Kuwaiti press:

 

Kuwaiti Columnist: The Kuwaiti Woman is an "Eight O'clock Cinderella"

In her column in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa, titled "The Kuwaiti Girl – Eight O'clock Cinderella," Kuwaiti columnist and media figure Muna Shishtar condemned the changes in the law and criticized MPs who took upon themselves guardianship of Kuwait's women:

"... I would like to put a number of questions to the distinguished, noble-spirited thinkers in Parliament: Who gave you the right to think and decide in our [i.e. women's] name, without consulting with us? Aren't we an active party in [Kuwait's] political, social, and economic life[?]... Who gave you the right to be guardians over us? Are you the rulers authorized by Allah on Kuwaiti soil?...

"I maintain that if the government does not reject this law, it will be a starting point for the group that is using extremist Islam to impose its desires on Kuwaitis, thereby pushing the country towards dark times. Thus, guardianship over us will spread to our homes, in order to teach us what we must do and not do even with our [own] family members.

"Assuming that the government does not reject this infamous law, and that there is an obligation to implement it, will it [also] apply to Kuwaiti women who work outside Kuwait? Will it apply to women who are not Kuwaitis but who work in Kuwaiti institutions and companies? ...What about social activities that must be held after eight PM – for example, weddings? Will the law apply to the bride, who is performing work – [that is], getting married... Will the law apply to wedding singers and musical groups participating in the ceremony? Will the law apply to the work done by a woman within her home? And what about housewives, who must go to the markets and co-ops in the evenings to make their purchases?...

"What about the woman who doesn't wear a watch? Will an accounting be demanded of her?... Will clocks be installed in the streets and marketplaces, and in front of every home, to warn and remind [women]?... Will the government demand an additional allocation of funds for its general budget in order to purchase and install these clocks?

"And what if the law applies to a woman minister – after all, she too is one of Kuwait's Cinderellas. [What if] she is in an official meeting, or with a delegation visiting [somewhere in Kuwait]? Will she excuse herself, saying that her work hours are over? And if she begins an official task, and her plane takes off before eight PM, will it halt in the sky at eight PM and complete its flight with the beginning of working hours the next day? ...

"A final question: "Who is served by a freeze on half of society, and from the country's turning into a wax museum, at eight PM?"[5]

Low Wage Earners Will Be Hardest Hit

In her column in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas, columnist Ibtihal Abd Al-'Aziz Ahmad criticized the MPs who ignored the economic and social consequences of the law: "...Can such a law actually be implemented? That is, is it possible to actually prevent women from working after eight PM in pharmacies, marketplaces, newspapers, news agencies, banks, airports, embassies, restaurants, and sewing shops... at universities and government offices, and in parliament? If the answer is yes, then we must ask whether the masters who agreed unanimously to this law thought about the consequences of implementing it. These women, whom we will get rid of in the workplaces – where are they to go?...

"The big problem here is the women earning low wages, and the women whose income will be hit hard because of the economic repression resulting from this law. They will find themselves forced to look for other, unofficial, immoral work in order to make up for the [financial] loss.

"Have you thought for one minute about the material damage that will be caused to these women, and to the activities that will stem from it? In the best-case scenario, these [activities] will be illegal; in the worst case, they will be against self-respect and the honor of the body...

"Have you thought of this law's economic consequences for the country? If I were the owner of a private factory, I would naturally tend to employ men rather than women, which would lead to a rise in men's wages, which are already higher than women's wages, even twice as high or more. As a result, goods and services will increase in price. What will the owners of women’s dress shops do, where men are banned from working (through yet another one of this parliament’s [brilliant] laws)? Who will they employ as sales personnel after eight PM?...

"If you are serious about implementing this law, then this is a huge constitutional catastrophe... that reflects failure in the economic and social conception of the laws and of their consequences, prior to their ratification – which is a scandal by any measure. If you are not serious [about implementing this law], then the catastrophe is greater yet..."[6]

This Discriminatory Law Paves the Way to More Discriminatory Laws

In his column in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai, Kuwaiti columnist Fahd Tawfiq Al-Hindal called for opposing the law, as it would pave the way to more laws violating human rights: "...The attempt by some [people] to gain control of society by imposing morality, customs, and traditions on it reinforces the lack of openness in society and blocks all channels of communication... on the pretext of defending morality and principles. These matters are deeply rooted in the Kuwaiti people and are related to the personal freedom promised by the constitution, and therefore the parliament cannot appoint itself in charge of them...

"What happened at the last parliamentary session and ratification of the law... strips [the woman of] her rights and her humanity, and precludes her activity and her freedom in the name of preserving morality...

"All institutions of civil society in Kuwait must oppose this law, in form and in content. This is because this law will have critical ramifications, which will pave the way to similar laws violating freedoms in the name of preserving morality. The MPs, and particularly those whose wisdom we trust, are asked to examine their decisions and their political agenda – because sooner or later, the electorate, society, and history will demand an accounting from them."[7]

The Law Will Eliminate Women's Economic, Social, and Political Role

In an article in Al-Siyassa, economic expert 'Amer Dhiyab Al-Tamimi called on women to oppose the restrictions and to pressure the government to reject the changes in the labor law:

"...The claim that the ban on employing women between eight PM and seven [AM] defends women against immoral exploitation disregards many social and cultural facts. Such immoral exploitation can occur at any hour, all day long; it is not something that is specific to nighttime... There is no doubt that the excuses being given by some of the defenders of these changes are unconvincing... [the changes are] unrealistic, cannot be implemented, and are inappropriate for the modern era...

"Many conservatives and reactionaries see a woman as shameful and as something that must be hidden, and whose movements outside the home must be restricted... Many of them, [who are themselves] fathers, brothers, and husbands, want to benefit from the woman's work and income, while at the same time wanting to restrict her work hours. Such contradictory positions will lead to political entanglement, and the country's exchequer [will be forced] to bear the burden...

"We must understand that the intention [of ratifying this law] is to eliminate the economic and social role, and thus also the political [role], of women in Kuwaiti life. The civil society institutions in Kuwait must raise awareness [of this matter] among women, so as to oppose anti-development attitudes, and to pressure political forces. The government must act to reject these changes [to the law] and to bury all other tendencies to oppose woman's work and her role in economic development."[8]

The cartoon below was published in Al-Siyassa on July 18, 2007. The woman is trying to pull back the clock hand before it reaches eight PM.

 

Endnotes:

[1] Kuwait News Agency, June 12, 2007.

[2] Al-Taleea (Kuwait), June 13, 2007.

[3] Al-Rai (Kuwait), June 28, 2007.

[4]Al-Rai (Kuwait), July 3, 2007.

[5] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), July 8, 2007

[6] Al-Qabas (Kuwait), June 21, 2007.

[7] Al-Rai (Kuwait), June 26, 2007.

[8] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), July 4, 2007

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