CEDAW Reviews Kuwait’s Gender Equality Progress: Commendation and Calls for Reform

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Kuwait recently underwent review from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on its ongoing efforts to enhance gender equality. The Committee recognized Kuwait’s efforts in addressing and improving the status of women in various sectors, but  also pointed out several areas requiring further attention to ensure true progress.

During the presentation of Kuwait’s report to the CEDAW, Al-Hayen, the Permanent Representative of Kuwait to the United Nations Office at Geneva highlighted the country’s dedication to gender equality. On May 16, Kuwait commemorated the Day of Kuwaiti Women, marking the day when Kuwaiti women gained political rights. He emphasized that women constitute 58% of the national workforce and play a pivotal role in the country’s socio-economic development. The State has set three key goals for women’s rights: combating discrimination and violence against women, creating an empowering environment for women entrepreneurs and encouraging the appointment of women in leadership positions. A budget of $2.5 million has been allocated for these initiatives.Women’s representation in Kuwait has doubled, with women assuming high-level positions such as ambassadors, ministers and municipal council members. Kuwaiti women have also advanced in the global gender gap index, ranking third in the Arab world on Women, Peace and Security.

While the government emphasizes progress in various sectors, there are persistent issues that require attention. For instance, the restricted ability of women to pass on citizenship to their children which not only impacts the legal status and rights of children but also reflects underlying inequalities in nationality laws. The Committee points out that Kuwait had not acceded to the conventions on statelessness. Around 20,000 Kuwaiti women were married to foreigners, and their children did not enjoy citizenship rights and were treated as expatriates in their homeland. Additionally, for Bidoon women, the lack of legal recognition and citizenship exacerbates their vulnerability and discrimination in Kuwait. Without citizenship, they are deprived of essential rights, including access to education, healthcare, employment opportunities, and legal protections, and struggle with limited economic opportunities. Addressing the difficulties of the Bidoon is integral to advancing women’s rights and ensuring inclusivity in Kuwaiti society.

During the session, Committee experts also raised concerns about honor killings and related legal practices. It was highlighted that honor crimes, where a spouse, son, or father killed a female relative suspected of adultery, still resulted in mitigated sentences for the perpetrators. They urged Kuwait to abolish these practices and align with other countries that have repealed laws mitigating sentences for honor killings. Despite this, perpetrators stood trial, and significant appeal cases had led to legislative modifications. The delegation noted that premeditated honor crimes resulted in the highest level of sentencing and expressed that it was highly probable these laws would be further amended in the future.

Committee experts acknowledged Kuwait’s progress but noted ongoing challenges. They questioned the comprehensive definition of discrimination in the Kuwaiti Constitution, the visibility of the Convention and the availability of free legal assistance to women. Thus, it has urged Kuwait to not only address these gaps but also to ensure that the progress made is sustained and built upon, fostering an environment where gender equality can be truly achieved. Kuwait’s proactive approach in integrating international recommendations and celebrating milestones in women’s rights is commendable, but the journey towards comprehensive gender equality is ongoing. Continuous efforts and reforms are needed to overcome the existing challenges and fully protect the rights of Kuwaiti women.