Dozens of activists gathered Wednesday evening in the Promenade Mall in Hawally to discuss one of the most controversial topics in Kuwait. Should a Kuwaiti woman have the right to pass nationality to her children if she is married to a foreigner? Local human rights activists have called on lawmakers to change the second article of the Nationality Law, which currently stipulates that children who are born to a Kuwaiti father, in Kuwait or abroad, are entitled to a nationality, while the law does not give Kuwaiti women the same right. (Except in certain circumstance, like if the child is illegitimate and the father unknown or if the Kuwaiti mother obtains a divorce from her non-Kuwaiti husband or if he is deceased.)
The Nationality Law is a source of constitutional ambiguity as it opposes the provision of the Twenty Ninth Article, which states that people are equal in human dignity and are equal in public rights and duties, without discrimination on grounds of race, origin, language or religion. Typically, such hot button issues are a source of screaming and heated exchanges when discussed in public. One only see posts on social media announcements about the issue to note how quickly tempers can rise.
This is why a local initiative, Niqashna is set out to hold civilized debates regarding controversial issues. Led by Mohammed Nuseibah and Nezar Al-Saleh, the Niqashna (Our Debate) aims to tackle an array of important social and political issues by engaging all members of society. “We promote and encourage tolerance, open-minded discussion, accepting opposing views without slandering and personal attacks. We deal with the differences of opinions with mutual respect, taking into account diversity,” said Nuseibah.
On their second debate, Niqashna picked the topic ‘Kuwaiti women and nationality’ – an issue increasingly facing challenges across the Gulf. Two teams hashed out the issues. The affirmative was led by Sara Al-Mutairi, president of the Constitutional Law Society in Kuwait University and Maryam Al-Eissa, founder and director of Re:food, a humanitarian non-profit initiative.
“Anybody can sign up in the debate through their website. This topic matters to me personally and I believed I had to debate as pro-granting Kuwaiti nationality to children of Kuwaiti women” explained Al-Eissa.
The Negative team was represented by Yousef Al-Azmi, who works at the Kuwaiti Parliament and Hamad Al-Otaibi, a business administration student at GUST. The debate started with the Affirmative offering their point of view, noting statistics that the number of children from Kuwaiti mothers to non-Kuwaitis is only 7 percent of total births and as such do not represent an economic burden on the country, as some claim. In addition, the Affirmative side argued that minors whose moms are Kuwaitis are entitled to citizenship like expat wives who are married to Kuwaiti males.
Sara Al-Mutairi, also described Kuwaiti women as second-class citizens, as they have not equal rights to Kuwaiti men. “Kuwait is among only 25 countries that do not grant this right. The state of Kuwait has signed all the provisions of the CEDAW International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, but refused to sign the article granting women the right to extend citizenship to their children,” she added.
The Negative team argued against the idea, noting that it could be detrimental to the concept of Kuwaiti identity. They said that some sensitive advantages of being a Kuwaiti, inside Kuwait and abroad, including visa-free access to many countries, which may constitute a security problem. But the Negative conceded that perhaps children of Kuwaiti women could be treated as Kuwaitis without granting them citizenship.
In rebuttal, the Affirmative replied that those who are born to a father from the GCC don’t need any advantages, and that they should expand their visions to realize that nationality is not solely related to materialism. It is a matter of identity, dignity and human rights.
By Athoob Al-Shuaibi