June 20, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10671

Kuwaiti Journalist: Violence Against Women Is Entrenched In Arab, Muslim Society; A Comprehensive Plan Is Needed To Create Profound Cultural Change

June 20, 2023
Kuwait | Special Dispatch No. 10671

In her column in the daily Al-Rai, Kuwaiti media figure Sahar Bin 'Ali, who often writes about feminist and women's issues,  decried the situation of women in the Arab world, many of whom suffer violence and are deprived of basic rights. Moreover, she noted, this often happens with the support of the official authorities and under the pretext of following the dictates of religion and custom, as in the theocracies of Iran and Afghanistan. Bin 'Ali also came out against the phenomena of  underage marriage and "honor killings," and called to stop ignoring them and start protecting women and their rights.

In an earlier column, she wrote that violence against women – including domestic violence – is part of Arab culture and is regarded as legitimate. She called for legislation to protect women and for a comprehensive cultural and educational campaign to change their condition.   

Sahar Bin 'Ali (image: Al-Rai, Kuwait)

The following are translated excerpts from these two columns:

Women In The Arab And Muslim World Suffer Violence And Discrimination With The Support Of The Authorities, Under Pretext Of Following Tradition

In a March 28, 2023 column, Sahar Bin 'Ali wrote: "The downplaying of the importance of feminist issues, society's attempts to malign [feminists] and what happens to women and even men who try to promote them – [all this] must stop. Women's experiences must be viewed from a human perspective, free of racism, of social baggage and of obsolete stereotypes. We must awaken our conscience, so as to defend the humanity and the rights of every individual in the world. [Our shared] humanity compels us to defend the rights of women throughout the world and to highlight the injustice they suffer in various aspects of their lives…

"The women of Afghanistan suffer violence and the denial of their most basic rights under the Taliban government, which justifies this by saying it is implementing the laws of religion and morality. It deprives the Afghan women of the right to study, work and frequent public places, thus flagrantly violating the [norms] of human [decency]… According to the UN, 87% of Afghan women suffer violence of some kind, physical, sexual or psychological, under the sponsorship of the Taliban government.

 "The Iranian women have provided a glimmer of hope for the women of the region with their revolution against the tyrannical regime and their struggle to gain their freedoms and rights… This is a historic event in which [women] from various ethnicities and regions are participating, [including] members of minorities [who are protesting] against the denial of all their civil rights. The participation of women from various sectors [in this protest], as well as men, strengthens this revolution.   

"We, the women of the Arab region, feel the violence and the discrimination suffered [by our sisters] in Afghanistan and Iran – the denial of their rights with the support of the [official] institutions… under the pretext of custom and social tradition – [because] the same happens [to us] in the Arab region. The Middle Eastern societies and their components are different, but [all these societies] share the patriarchal system and the various types of violence directed at women.    

"Sadly, the women of my country [Kuwait] still suffer discrimination and oppression [as well]. [Prevented from] expressing their opinion and excluded from decision-making, they are not free to determine their own fate. Underage marriage is still legal. A girl is married off at 15. [That is], she is married to the one who rapes her, instead of the rapist being punished. [Women] are still murdered in the name of [family] honor and suffer violence even in their homes, which are supposed to be the safest place for them. They are harassed on the street, at home and at the workplace, and are still crying out for equality with men, in marriage, housing… and many other domains." [1] 


Women Suffer Systematic Violence, Which Requires A Comprehensive Plan For Change

In September 2022, after a video showing a Kuwaiti man brutally beating his wife of the street went viral on social media, Bin 'Ali wrote: "Most of the people reading this column have probably seen the video that was circulated on social media several days ago, in which a man was seen brutally beating his wife on the street in broad daylight just for getting a job without his knowledge and consent. Thanks to [mobile] phones, cameras and modern media, [in this case] social media, this man was arrested and the proper measures were taken against him. But the question remains: What happens inside the homes, behind the walls? How many women are beaten and suffer violence without anyone knowing about it? How many women are humiliated but cannot report this, for fear of losing their lives? How many women are deprived of their rights by their husband, brother or father?

"The culture of violence is generally prevalent in our societies. Beating has always been common in the home, as part of discipline, and then a woman marries and passes from the authority of her father or brother to the authority of her husband, who thinks she is his property and forbids her to study or work. This is another kind of violence: economic violence, which deprives a woman of economic independence and keeps her under her husband's thumb, unable to leave him because he is the source of her livelihood…  

"That [particular case in Kuwait] became famous thanks to the video, but this does not happen in the case of every woman. Most women don't manage to film [the violence they suffer] or report it. Moreover, women feel unsafe, because they are constantly exposed to violence by people who fear nothing and by patriarchal institutions that support men's violence [against them].  

"The cases of violence against women in their homes due to domestic disputes are not sporadic, and the state must not treat them as such. Women suffer systematic violence just because they are women, who, [some people believe], must be controlled and [subjected to] guardianship…  

"Since [it's not a matter of] sporadic cases, but of a social culture, the state must formulate a clear and comprehensive plan for changing [the situation]. This cannot be done just through legislation and punishment, although these two factors are important. There is need for change that encompasses education, the media and the Interior Ministry."[2] 


[1] Al-Rai (Kuwait), March 28, 2023.

[2] Al-Rai (Kuwait), September 19, 2022.

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