December 18, 2019 Special Dispatch No. 8420

Kuwaiti Columnist Condemns Discrimination Against Women In The Healthcare System

December 18, 2019
Kuwait | Special Dispatch No. 8420

In an article in the Kuwaiti English-language daily Arab Times, columnist Ahmad Al-Sarraf decries the discrimination against women in Muslim societies. After briefly mentioning gender inequality in rights related to marriage, child custody and inheritance, he focuses on two phenomena related to healthcare in Kuwait. One is the fact that mothers may not authorize medical procedures for their children, because only a male family member may do so. The other is the fact that women seeking treatment for sexually transmitted diseases must prove that they are married; otherwise, hospitals may deny them care. Noting that no man would ever be required to display a marriage certificate before being treated for an STD, he calls this practice "outrageous" and "shameful," stressing that the role of the healthcare system is to dispense treatment to all those who require it, not to act as the public's moral guardian.

The following are excerpts from Al-Sarraf's article, as it appeared in the daily.[1]

Ahmad Al-Sarraf (Source: Arab Times, Kuwait)

"It is difficult for a majority of men to understand the reality of the suffering of women in Muslim countries, and it is [even] more difficult to explain that suffering and to capture all its aspects. Only a few women can understand the magnitude of that suffering, and we will try in this article to talk about this subject, as much as we can – [about] some forms of that suffering.

"I will not write here about the psychological suffering of women. I will not write about the injustices suffered by a spinster, a married or divorced woman or a widow, the society seems to be against them in all circumstances and cases, especially if [their] material status is not strong.

"I will not touch on her 'underdeveloped' rights which we see in many countries with regard to marriage, forcing her to marry someone she hates or dislikes, she has no right to do what she wants with her dowry, and other than divorce issues, her share of the inheritance, if she gets it; her right to custody of her children... Rather, we will address two issues that concern large segments of Kuwaiti society.

"The first concerns the right of a mother towards her minor children, specifically in hospitals. The government hospitals refuse to perform any operation on any minor except in the presence of a male member from the family of the minor to sign an undertaking. There are strict instructions that a mother cannot sign such papers, and the law insists only a male member of the family can do this because they believe a grandfather or brother or uncle knows the interest of the minor more than his mother.

"Many have suffered from this unwarranted militancy, which is often applied on the weak, unlike the others who have the support and backing.

"The second issue concerns the new instructions that a patient is experiencing in hospitals, especially the government [hospitals], with regard to gynecological diseases. The process requires the presentation of a marriage certificate, and if the patient is divorced or a widow [she] should prove it. But if they are spinsters they have to resort to private hospitals, as the government hospitals refuse to treat them or conduct laboratory tests on them, perhaps because of her 'behavior'.

"Historically, logically and from a humanitarian point of view, a physician's job is to provide treatment to those who need it, regardless of the color, sex or religion of the patient. What the Ministry of Health practices in Kuwait with divorced or single women is outrageous. This is a shameful and regrettable act. The role of the Ministry is to treat those who are sick and give them medicine and not do research work on the social background of a patient, or act as guardian of the concerned citizens and residents.

"Note that the Ministry, for example, does not ask the male patient, if infected with a sexual disease, to bring the marriage contract."



[1] Arab Times (Kuwait), December 4, 2019. The article has been lightly edited for clarity.

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