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“Which one of us will be next?” Kuwaiti women against violence

Less than two months after the launch of a nationwide campaign to end sexual harassment and violence against women in Kuwait, Kuwaiti women are shaken by the death of one of them. Angrily and fearfully they ask: “which one of us will be next?”

Kuwaiti women are protesting against the injustice affecting them in their own country. Last week, the society was shaken after a young woman was murdered by her would-be husband. The victim had reported to the police that she was harassed and threatened by the tormentor. Despite all of that, after paying the bail, he was released from prison twice. The tragedy happened just two months after the campaign against gender-based violence began.

Ignored by the services

On April 20 this year, 32-year-old Farah Hamza Akbar was traveling in the car with her sister and 2 children when suddenly, in the middle of the day, during the month of Ramadan, she was pulled out of the vehicle. The attacker inflicted her several mortal knife wounds. The killer turned out to be a man who was reported to the police as dangerous by the victim. His aggressive behavior began after the woman’s family refused their marriage. [1]

The devastated sister of the victim, in a video that appeared on social media indicates that the victim informed the services about repeated threats from the tormentor, but these ignored her words and did not save her from the tragedy. [2]

The death of Farah Hamza Akbar shook the society struggling to change deeply patriarchal Kuwait. The hashtags “Sabah Al-Salem Crime” (“Murder in the city of Sabah Al-Salem) and “I am the next victim” broke popularity records on Twitter and Instagram last week as many Kuwaiti women experienced both male harassment and similarly disrespectful behavior from the police.

I will not be silent

The murder took place just two months after Kuwaiti activists launched a national campaign to end violence and sexual harassment of women. The campaign provoked dozens of women to share their testimonies and feelings. Tracked, harassed or attacked victims can still send a message via the Google form that can be found on the Instagram account “Lan Asket” (Arabic for “I will not be silent”). [3]

The popular Kuwaiti blogger, Ascia Al-Faraj, posted a video on the web during the campaign, recorded just after she was scared off on her way to her car by another driver, who suddenly sped up:

“Every time I go out, there is someone who harasses me or harasses another woman  in the street (…) We have a problem of harassment in this country, and I have had enough,” she said. [4]

Not only words

On April 22, peaceful protesters gathered in front of the National Assembly building on Al-Erada Square in Kuwait. They wanted to show the authorities their dissatisfaction with the fact that complaints made by women are often ignored and not taken seriously.

Protesters, including men, some dressed in black as a sign of respect for the victims, chanted, “There is no law, no protection.” There were also banners saying “Stop the murder of women”, “We will not be silent”, or “Blood on your hands”. Moreover, there was a banner with the names of several women murdered in similar situations with the note “Who will be next?” [5]

Reaction of MPs

There were also MPs at the protest. One of them, Muhannad Al-Sayer, said he would present a proposal to set up special accommodation for female victims and witnesses of violence.

Osama Al-Shaheen reminded that he had submitted a bill calling for the abolition of a provision of the Criminal Code that treats the so-called “honor killing” too lightly. The bill also calls for tougher penalties for people infringing somebody’s privacy.

Khalil Al-Saleh made a proposal calling for the creation of specialized centers in each region to receive complaints from women and provide them with the necessary protection. He said the centers must be run solely by women. [6]

Much room for improvement

According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 made by the World Economic Forum, Kuwait ranks 3rd among the MENA countries in terms of gender equality. However, globally it ranks only 122nd, out of 153 countries surveyed. Additionally, it ranks 142nd politically, 143rd for health and survival, 120th for economic opportunities, and 57th for education. Women continue to fight against the traditional patriarchal culture that discriminates against them in various areas. [7]

During the Universal Periodic Review (a control mechanism within the UN Human Rights Council assessing human rights compliance in individual countries) in July 2020, Kuwait approved the recommendations to fully implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Unfortunately, at the same time other recommendations were rejected, including those ensuring full equality between men and women, the criminalization of sexual violence and marital rape, and gender neutrality in laws on personal status and citizenship.

The country also upheld Article 153 of the Penal Code, according to which the murder of a woman’s relative is punishable by a fine in cases involving the so-called “honor killing”.

In August, the parliament adopted a law criminalizing domestic violence, offering protection to victims of domestic violence, including legal and medical assistance, but in the following months there were reports of murders of women by their family members. One of the victims was pregnant. [8]

Long way to go

As shown by the example of Farah Hamza Akbar, and many other abused women whom the world will never hear about because they were murdered in the silence of four walls, Kuwait still has a long way to go to ensure equal rights for its citizens.

Despite the fact that changes in law are difficult to implement – they require effort and time – they do take place. This is due to international pressure, but also to the voices of the citizens themselves. However, the actual implementation of the changes requires much more effort and time. It is not easy to break the fossilized conservative norms.

Fortunately, Kuwait has an increasingly active society that fights for the change. Perhaps if not for themselves, then for future generations.

[1], [2], [4] Al Jazeera, ‘Kuwait is unsafe for women’: Outrage over brutal murder of woman,

[3] Instagramowy profil akcji „Lan Akset”,

[5] Al Monitor, Murder in Kuwait stirs outrage over violence against women.

[6] Kuwait Times, Women protest demanding more protection for females in Kuwait.

[7] Global Gender Gap Report 2020.

[8] Amnesty International, Kuwait 2020.

Cover photo: Bahraini women protesting in 2011. Credit: Sara Hassan via commons.wikipedia.org.

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