UN Committee calls on Kuwait to improve its record on women’s rights

Press release

Geneva, Kuwait City, 27 October 2011 - The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, a UN monitoring body composed of independent experts, has called on the government of Kuwait to adopt a series of urgent measures to end discrimination and violence against women in the country. Convening in Geneva in October, the Committee evaluated Kuwait’s compliance with its international obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The concluding observations of the Committee reflect a number of serious concerns raised by FIDH’s partner organisation, the Kuwait Society for Human Rights (KSHR), in its shadow report, in areas such as discriminatory laws, violence against women and access to education and health services.

Overhall of discriminatory laws urgently needed: The Committee drew attention to a number of discriminatory laws restricting the ability of women to exercise full enjoyment of their rights. The Committee called on Kuwait to abolish all discriminatory laws and withdraw all reservations to CEDAW. In maintaining its reservation to article 9 (2), Kuwait deprives women of the right to pass on their nationality to their children, whilst the refusal to accept article 16 (1) (f) denies women guardianship of their children on equal terms with their spouses.

Action needed to combat negative stereotypes of women in Kuwait: Echoing concerns raised in KSHR’s shadow report, the Committee underlined the « limited impact » of the Kuwaiti government’s efforts to eradicate « discriminatory stereotypes overemphasising the roles of women as wives and mothers » in the country. The Committee noted KSHR’s observation that such stereotypes are embedded within early stage school curricula in Kuwait and called for a revision of the state’s measures to combat such social stigmas, including within schools.

Protection of Kuwaiti women from violence inadequate: In its conclusions, the Committee underlined the vulnerability of women in Kuwait to acts of sexual and gender-based violence and the prevailing impunity of perpetrators, as outlined in KSHR’s shadow report. The Committee noted, for example, that under article 186 of the Kuwaiti Criminal Code, sexual offences committed by husbands against their wives may only be considered as criminal acts if they fall within the category of « unnatural acts ». The Committee urged Kuwait to increase assistance and protection to women victims who speak out, as well as to amend its Criminal Code to protect women against all forms of violence.

Lack of participation in political and public life: The Committee further noted the significant barriers to Kuwaiti women’s participation in public and political life. It noted that the Kuwaiti Public Prosecution service does not allow for the appointment of women as judges and urged the government to take measures to reverse such practices and promote the participation of Kuwaiti women in all areas of public and political life.

Segregated and restricted education: With the Kuwaiti Ministry of Education preventing married students from pursuing their studies in day schools and insisting upon the segregation of men and women pupils and teachers in separate schools, the Committee expressed concern at discrimination within Kuwait’s education system. In addition, the Committee’s conclusions noted a lack of clarity as to whether sexual and reproductive health forms part of Kuwait’s national curriculum and called for a clarification of the matter, as well as for the eradication of segregation and barriers to education for married women.

Alarming violations of women’s rights in the Kuwaiti health system: The Committee was particularly concerned about reports «relating to several incidents of involuntary psychiatric hospitalization of women for social misbehaviour or breaking societal norms », as detailed in KSHR’s shadow report, as well as the « continued practice of seeking male guardian’s consent to medical treatment of women ». While calling for the abolition of the latter practice, the Committee urged Kuwait to adopt a law regulating the detention of mentally-ill patients and to adopt standards establishing that rape and incest may constitute grounds for abortion, contrary to current practices.

As highlighted by the conclusions of the CEDAW Committee, numerous obstacles, both social and legal in nature, continue to prevent Kuwaiti women from enjoying genuine equality with men and full access to their human rights. FIDH calls upon the government of Kuwait to take immediate steps to implement the recommendations made by the Committee, to withdraw its remaining reservations to CEDAW and to ensure the primacy of the convention over national law.

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