By Sajeev K Peter
KUWAIT: When it comes to gender equality and women empowerment, Kuwait appears to have lost the advantage it had years ago in the region, and the country needs to do more towards it, an official of Kuwait Transparency Society said.
In an exclusive interview with Kuwait Times, Asrar Hayat, Board Member, Undersecretary, KTS, spoke at length about the various activities of KTS, particularly on issues such as combating corruption, gender equality and woman empowerment. She also explained how KTS is collaborating with other civil society organizations on these critical matters.
Quoting an index presented by ‘Women, Business and the Law 2021’ on Kuwait covering 190 economies and structured around the lifecycle of a working woman, Kuwait scored only 28.8 out of 100, she said. The overall score for Kuwait is lower than the regional average observed across the Middle East and North Africa (51.5). Kuwait does not attain a perfect score on any of the WBL2021 indicators, Hayat said.
Even the number of women in leadership positions in Kuwait is only 15 percent, while women have around 12 percent representation in the country’s corporate sector. Saudi Arabia has made significant progress in a short period although the kingdom began to address the issue of gender equality only fairly recently. Most of the other GCC countries have set a quota for women in corporate boardrooms and increased the number of women leaders in government as well. In Qatar, the percentage of women in leadership positions is 20 percent. In the Norwegian parliament ‘Storting’, women have 40 percent representation, while in Oman’s parliament, women have a nine percent representation. Kuwait has no representation of women in parliament.
“In the GCC, a massive change is taking place with regards to gender equality and women’s empowerment. In fact, Kuwait was way ahead of other GCC countries in terms of gender equality, but it appears that the country has lost that advantage as it is currently trailing behind most of the other states in the GCC,” Hayat said.
Salaries in the public sector are more or less equal in Kuwait. However, due to allowances, men still earn 41 percent more than women. In the private sector, the disparity is even more glaring, with men receiving 63 percent more salaries with increments, allowances, perks etc. “Men and women are equal in all aspects. We strongly advocate that this disparity is a critical issue and needed to be addressed,” Hayat said, adding that KTS is partnering with other civil society bodies on realizing gender equality and empowerment of women.
Kuwait is moving, albeit at a slow pace, towards transparency and integrity, Hayat said, citing some positive changes the country is making in achieving good governance. “We are optimistic as we can see some positive changes now. Many entities in the country have begun to practice good governance,” she said.
“How can we have transparency and integrity without a digital government and governance?” she asked. “We need to have a digital government and governance to achieve total transparency and integrity in our system. We also need a good cybersecurity system in place,” Hayat said. “Combating corruption is one of our primary objectives. But it is a continuous effort. Even in developed countries, stamping out corruption from society is a herculean task,” she pointed out.
“KTS conducts around 80 activities every year, all in line with fighting corruption under the leadership and guidance of Chairman Majid Al-Mutari. Our anti-corruption fight has three pillars – transparency, democracy and social support,” she elaborated.
Hayat, an ardent advocate of liberty, democracy and the environment, was the first woman in the region to run for the election to the board of Transparency International in November 2021. “Although I could not make it to the board, I garnered 35 percent of votes. I wanted to make a Kuwaiti voice heard in Transparency International. We need the world to see what Kuwaitis are doing,” she said. TI has 100 chapters across the world. In the region, it has only two chapters – Kuwait and Bahrain.
The KTS, in collaboration with the Public Authority for Anti-Corruption (Nazaha), has established a team to follow up on the government’s performance in dealing with the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic in the society. “It was probably the first-ever civil society initiative at a local or regional level. I was part of an eight-member team. The team started its work in February 2020 and submitted the report in April 2021,” she said.
“The overall performance of the government in facing the pandemic was very good. Different government sectors, especially the Ministry of Health, Kuwait National Guard and some other entities, performed distinctively well during the crisis,” Hayat pointed out.
The report urged the government to apply governance in the public sector in order to ensure transparency and integrity and to empower community partnership, calling for the establishment of an independent risk management center. “It is crucial for us to have such a center in the event of a disaster or the outbreak of a pandemic such as COVID-19,” Hayat said. The report also called for reinforcing civil society’s role and participation.
“Some areas in the country do not have the right demographic proportion, resulting in several problems including health-related concerns as we have seen during the pandemic,” she said. The report recommended rectification of such an imbalance in the country’s demography.
The KTS has drafted executive regulations of the Right of Access to Information Law with a team of governmental experts. The law was passed in November 2021. “Although the government has accepted it, it has not yet been completely activated. We are putting pressure on concerned entities to apply the law,” she said. KTS has conducted around 40 training courses for different government entities with a view to helping them in implementing the law.
“We have to be optimistic. At the end of the day, only transparency will guide the country towards becoming a developed country,” she concluded.