By Faten Omar
KUWAIT: Violence against women has increased recently in the Arab world, where two female students were brutally murdered on campus in Egypt and Jordan, respectively, in broad daylight for saying “no” to their killers. The murders sent shockwaves in the region, bringing gender-based violence into the spotlight. Mohammad Al-Jassem, lawyer and Interpol-accredited expert in international law enforcement cooperation, told Kuwait Times the problem of gender-based violence is widespread in Kuwait, even as several social and legal shortcomings continue to hamper proper action.
“Any act of harassment is punishable by law under ‘incitement to immorality’ in case of verbal harassment and ‘indecent assault’ in case of touching. The two acts are legally criminalized, but there is a defect in the law enforcement mechanism in Kuwait. There is slackness or lack of familiarity by employees of their tasks and a lack of education about these matters. The law is there, but the implementation is not,” Jassem said.
Jassem noted that law enforcement officers must deal with such matters as a human being rather than merely as an employee. Law enforcement officers must educate themselves to remain updated, but the big problem is ignorance in the society. “These kinds of crimes are always repeated because of the ignorant and corrupt society. You find these mistakes made again and again unintentionally because of their ignorance and lack of awareness of matters,” he said.
Jassem affirmed that women must always inform the authorities for such men to face the right punishment, which may reach a fine and imprisonment. Parents can file a case against harassment against a man for taking their under-18 daughter to inappropriate places, even if she agreed to go with him or even if she suggested it. “It is considered a kidnapping crime by deceiving the victim – kidnapping by ruse, even if it was with her consent or if she suggested it,” he said.
In Kuwait last week, a young female child was beaten and carried off by her father at school in front of her friends, teachers and school security, but they all failed to protect her from violence. “A complaint must be submitted to the ministry of education and an investigation should be held. The punishment will not be only against the father, but everyone who witnessed this act and refrained from assisting, as in the eyes of the law, a witness is considered a participant in the crime according to the ‘refusal to act’ law,” Jassem said.
“A case must be filed against the father and he should be referred to investigation and held accountable under the law of neglect of a minor, which is an article from the ’60s. If the father is found to be negligent, the child will be transferred to a shelter to protect her from her criminal guardians,” he added.
Kuwait law and the Kuwait Child Protection Program specify that all schoolteachers are mandated reporters. They are legally obliged to report suspected child abuse. The law criminalizes abuse of a child in any form.
“A lot needs to change to make it safer for women, starting from applying the safety from family violence legislation passed in the summer of 2020, other resources such as shelters and hotlines, and making protection from harassment whether at home or in the workplace a priority,” said Alanoud Alsharekh, Kuwaiti women’s rights activist and a founding member of Abolish 153 campaign.
“I think it’s inevitable that this heinous article (153) will be abolished. Now that awareness has been raised around its existence and dangers and three separate bills have been presented to abolish it since 2017, it just needs to be made a priority by lawmakers to make it a reality,” she told Kuwait Times.
The murders and abuse of women have triggered widespread fury across the Middle East, with calls for greater protection against gender violence and femicide in the region. According to a report by UN Women titled “Facts and Figures: Ending Violence against Women and Girls”, 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime – mostly by intimate partners.
In some countries, the rate of violence against women is as high as 70 percent, while 37 percent of Arab women have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime. There are indicators that the percentage might be higher. Nearly 4 in every 10 of all women victims of homicide worldwide are killed by intimate partners. Every year 400 to 500 women are killed brutally in Iran to protect men’s “honor”. The killers are usually close relatives – often the victim’s father, husband or brother.