Social oppression is defined as “a concept that describes a relationship of dominance and subordination between categories of people in which one benefits from the systematic abuse, exploitation, and injustice directed toward the other.” In other words, some groups have more power than other within society. Those people live a comfortable life and their acceptance of others makes life easier. But powerful groups tend to abuse their power for their own benefit. Although Kuwait is more privileged than most countries, that does not change the fact that social oppression exists here.
In Kuwait, foreigners make up the majority but, ironically, it is a minority of Kuwaiti citizens that wield the power. Most of the ruling class consists of Muslim Arab men who lead this country, a point evidenced in the parliament, workforce, etc.
Many of Kuwait’s majority population of foreigners consists of smaller groups: Christian Kuwaitis, Bahá’ís (who don’t identify as either Muslims or Christians), Buddhists and Hindus. While some reside as citizens, others are here for mainly for work.
Many of these minorities lack representation, deprived when they are supposed to have a voice. Many residents rely on agencies/embassies for religious support, with many religions not accepted within Kuwaiti culture.
The major cause of social oppression is the cultural acceptance of Muslim-Arab superiority that results from Kuwait’s history. While the constitution allows freedom of religion, the reality is more complex; socially, people are more accepted if they come from the Kuwaiti minority.
Although they live a privileged life compared to their Middle Eastern counterparts, women remain another oppressed group in Kuwait. Their rights are material or related to the workforce. Despite the fact they account for the majority of Kuwait’s workforce, they are not accepted in all fields. There is only one woman in Kuwait’s parliament. Kuwaiti women cannot pass on their citizenship if married to a non-Kuwaiti, while divorce sees mothers lose access to their children if they remarry.
Divorced Kuwaiti women lose their claim to homes purchased by government housing programs, even if they have made their payments. Kuwaiti women cannot marry alone and require a male guardian. The country has no laws prohibiting domestic violence, sexual harassment or marital rape. Laws and social pressure push women to marry one man; She can be shunned, her reputation tarnished, if she does not. But it does not stop there.
Marrying someone her family does not approve of can also damage a woman’s standing. In effect, she cannot marry unless someone else approves.
Women in Kuwait are often told to keep domestic violence and rape cases behind close door as it might make her less desirable. They are taboo subjects society, people preferring not to acknowledge their dark consequences.
Most of these things date back to pre-Islamic times, when women were far more objectified. Since then, it has become engrained in our culture to prepare a woman to become the most desirable bride possible, owned by her family. Though she is supposed to fend for herself, a Kuwaiti woman is expected to depend on a man.
Mental illness also remains a taboo subject in Kuwait, one that has caused many to be ostracized from society, the stigma associated with it more powerful than the need for rehabilitation. The Kuwaiti public seems mostly disinterested in fighting the problem.
Stigma surrounding the issue exists in Kuwait, with people unaware of how to access mental health care and, although several campaigns are now attempting to raise awareness, public support for mental illness awareness is virtually non-existent.
The effects of mental illness are not taken seriously, viewed as exaggerated. The fact that the identified cases are so rare makes the topic taboo, and one rarely talked about openly. This causes those in need to be shut out entirely. Only limited treatment is available; Kuwait does not provide the public with mental health services, like suicide hotlines.
Social oppression is a serious problem. It will require education, and for people to come together and accept one another to achieve equality.
By Fatma Al Attar