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12-07-2011 - Arab news

Improvements in women's rights: Kuwait

UN Women launched its first global report. Entitled 'Progress of the World's Women: In Pursuit of Justice,' the new report examines women's rights worldwide and highlights the injustices women suffer at home, at work, in politics and under different justice systems.

Compiled using case studies, statistics and graphics, the report's authors worked to highlight progress made, as well as areas still requiring improvement, in women's rights. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon states in the report: "Achieving women's equality is a fundamental human right and a social and economic imperative.

The report noted improvements in Kuwait, where the percentage of female parliamentary representatives has risen from zero percent in 1997 to eight percent in 2011. Kuwait was found to lack balance in various other areas, however, with both job opportunities and working hours being limited for women, and female participation in the workforce in 2009 being recorded as only half that of males.

 

Furthermore, it stated, whilst abortion is permitted, by law, if the fetus is found to be impaired, it is not allowed if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. There are currently no laws in Kuwait protecting women from domestic violence, marital rape, or sexual harassment, the report continued, although it should be noted that the terms by which UN Women defines whether or not laws are in place are based on whether actions are specifically criminalized.

 

In the wider Middle East figures, there is also much room for much improvement, the report states. Only four countries in the region - Algeria, Iraq, Morocco and Tunisia - have outlawed sexual harassment. Domestic violence figures remain high across the region and, more worryingly, surveys revealed that 33 percent of respondents in Jordan agreed that it is 'justifiable' sometimes for a man to beat his wife. Furthermore, no Middle East countries have introduced any laws against marital rape. One Jordanian interviewee quoted in the report commented:

 

Girls are always treated with injustice. They have marriage imposed on them by the age of 16. But men are allowed to get their education and can work any place they want. There are families here who will not even allow their daughters to go to the community centre.

Although some regional countries have improved their family-related legislation, actually utilizing it properly is a different matter. According to the report, 68 percent of Moroccan women were found to prefer resolving problems within the family unit as opposed to via the justice system. Trust, however, is being built slowly and is supported by the presence of female social workers in the district courts there.

 

It was also found that divorcees there were unlikely to actually receive the financial payments they had been awarded, with 20,000 judgments issued every year, but only one bailiff appointed to help enforce them. Women in the region are advancing professionally, however, with Egypt, Jordan and Morocco all seeing a six-fold increase in female parliamentarians. As a whole, women make up a quarter of judges and prosecution department staff in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which is a significant increase on previous years.

 

Despite these positive signs, however, and clear evidence from other studies that an increase in the number of female police officers helps to increase the number of female victims willing to report sexual assaults, only two percent of the police officers across the MENA region are female.

Key findings in the report on the situation faced by women globally included the disclosure that women are still paid, on average, between 10 and 30 percent less than men for performing the same jobs. It also revealed that while 117 countries have outlawed sexual harassment in the workplace, 311 million women of working age still lack any legal protection from this form of harassment.

 

Similarly, while 125 countries have outlawed domestic violence, 603 million women and girls still have no legal protection from it. The issue of marital rape sees even higher figures, with 2.6 billion women and girls living in countries where it's not explicitly criminalized.

 

Other sources on GCC civil society and human rights