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Kuwait: Tackling persistent barriers for women to sustain progress

KUWAIT / GENEVA (15 December 2016) – A United Nations expert group on discrimination against women today praised Kuwait for its achievements in education and in the labour force, but warned against the persistent barriers, both in law and in practice, on the path of women’s quest for full equality.

“Kuwait has a strong constitutional framework for equality for all and has made significant progress towards achieving women’s right to equality, particularly over the past decade,” said the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, at the end of an official visit to the country*.
Human rights experts Alda Facio, who currently heads the expert group, and Kamala Chandrakirana said that “women’s victory in gaining electoral rights in 2005 represented a significant breakthrough, triggering a momentum of legislative reforms in favour of women’s human rights.”

They also noted that the domestic workers law of June 2015 is another pioneering initiative, unique in the region, which regulates the labour rights of the 600.000 domestic workers in the country, the overwhelming majority of whom are migrant women.

“Despite these significant achievements, discrimination against women persists in law and in practice, particularly in the context of the family and nationality laws, based on the presumption of women’s dependence on men, which is contrary to the principle of equality.

The experts acknowledged the role played by the Constitutional Court in repealing several discriminatory legal provisions, but cautioned that “Kuwait needs to go beyond piecemeal reforms of its discriminatory laws and take concrete and immediate action on a comprehensive review of the laws, particularly on personal status and nationality.”

“There is also a gap in the legal framework with regard to violence against women,” they said, stressing that this discriminatory situation has a detrimental impact on women’s equal protection under the law and their equal access to public services. “It further limits women’s capacity to build assets and participate in all aspects of national development and undermines the benefits that women in Kuwait could gain from the new progressive laws.”

The experts called for political commitment to build a strong institutional framework for women’s human rights, adopt policies for affirmative actions, and undertake reforms in the educational system. “Efforts to break the glass ceiling for women in male-dominated fields will not be sustainable without a coherent and comprehensive affirmative action policy,” they stated.

Kuwait’s institutions of primary education seem to be one of the bastions of conservatism, promoting the image of women as wives and mothers. “We are concerned that some current practices such as special courses on sewing, cooking and household management dedicated to girls only and some of the content of school curricula reinforce stereotyped roles of women and men in society,” they said.

“We are hopeful that Kuwait’s leadership will be able to take the necessary next major steps to maintain progress on women’s human rights,” the experts said, stating that “open and public debate on issues deemed controversial is crucial to the country’s forward movement and requires the guarantee of freedom of speech and expression.”

The experts highlighted that Kuwait’s reform agendas will benefit from the strengthening of its civil society, including an autonomous women’s movement, through the adoption of a law on civil society that promotes the active participation of women in the defense of human rights. “The stakes are high as the country carries out an ambitious economic reform agenda in an increasingly fragile world,” they concluded.

During its nine-day visit, the Working Group’s delegation met with Government officials, representatives of civil society organizations, academics, health and educational professionals and students as well as with representatives of the private sector  and held meetings in Kuwait City, Hawally and Jahra Governorate.

Following this visit, the Working Group will present a full report with its conclusions and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2017.

(*)  Check the full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21037&LangID=E

The UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice was created by the Human Rights Council in 2011 to identify, promote and exchange views, in consultation with States and other actors, on good practices related to the elimination of laws that discriminate against women. The Group is also tasked with developing a dialogue with States and other actors on laws that have a discriminatory impact where women are concerned.

The Working Group is composed of five independent experts: the Current Chair-Rapporteur Alda Facio (Costa Rica), Kamala Chandrakirana (Indonesia), Frances Raday (Israel/United Kingdom), Emna Aouij (Tunisia) and Eleonora Zielinska (Poland). Learn more, log on to:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/WGWomen/Pages/WGWomenIndex.aspx

The Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Kuwait: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/KWIndex.aspx

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Bernadette Arditi (+41 22 917 9159 or +41 79 752 0483 / barditi@ohchr.org) or Hannah Wu (+41 22 917 9159  hwu@ohchr.org ) or write to wgdiscriminationwomen@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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