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Kuwait's slow pace to end honour killings

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On 6 July, 2021, Kuwait's judiciary issued one of its most-anticipated decisions. The case concerned the killing of Farah Hamzah Akbar, a 32-year-old Kuwaiti single mother of two. What made the case unnerving was not merely the brazen nature of the murder: the killer, Fahad Subhi Mohammed—a 30-year-old naturalized Kuwaiti—kidnapped Farah in broad daylight with her two young daughters in the car, and stabbed her in the chest multiple times in the highly-populated suburb of Kuwait called Sabah al-Salem before coolly driving to a hospital and dumping her body and her distraught children at the hospital entrance which was teeming with people. Rather, it was the tangible feeling that killing of women in Kuwait had now become a mundane occurrence. It was the realization that—despite a domestic violence law issued in 2020—Kuwait's courts had systematically failed to provide punishments of convicted murderers that were commensurate with the crimes. For women, waiting for justice to be served has been like waiting for Godot, writes Fay El-Jeaan, a volunteer with Abolish 153

For years, the movement to take sterner measures penalizing domestic violence in Kuwait has been spearheaded by Abolish 153, a grassroots movement that aims to abolish Article 153 from Kuwait’s penal code, a provision that renders the killing of a woman as a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of three years imprisonment and/or a fine of 3,000 rupees ($50) if she is killed by a husband, father, brother or son who catches her in an unsavory act with a man. The antiquated provision excuses and renders justifiable honor killings of women. In so doing, it recognizes the authority of men over their female kin.

Although Kuwait is generally considered one of the more progressive countries in the Middle East—with a vocal Parliament and press freedoms—it has sorely lagged other countries in the Middle East in enacting needed legislation to punish femicide. In 2011, Lebanon annulled its honor killing law (Article 562). Similar annulments have occurred in Tunisia and Palestine, and, in 2020, the UAE not only abolished its lenient laws surrounding honor killings, but also eliminated all sexist aspects from its inheritance laws and family laws.

The only notable achievement in Kuwait, to date, has been the passage of a Domestic Violence Law in August 2020. The legislation, drafted by Parliament's Women and Family Committee, aims to “set the minimum standard and legal protection procedures for victims of domestic violence, in a way that maintains the family unity without threatening its stability in the society,” as reported by the state's news agency, KUNA. In terms of its scope, the law does achieve some important aims. It calls for the establishment of a National Family Protection Committee that would recommend measures to tackle the spread of domestic violence in Kuwait, as well as the review and amendment of existing national laws that perpetuate the violence.

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It also requires mandatory training programmes for all government sectors involved in family protection, awareness programmes on detection, reporting and survivor advocacy, and issuing an annual report about domestic violence statistics. It also calls for activating a domestic violence shelter and offering rehabilitation and advisory services, while also mandating the punishment of those who try and coerce survivors not to report abuse. Third, it gives important provision for cooperation with civil society organizations, such as Abolish 153, which are working on this issue. Although Kuwait already has several governmental bodies meant to be dealing with ending violence against women, in reality it has been the grassroots movements, such as Abolish 153, which have been more effective in dealing with the plight of abuse survivors in Kuwait.

Less than a month after the law's approval by Parliament, however, Kuwait was roiled by the killing of a pregnant woman. She was shot in the head and killed by one of her brothers while she was recovering in the in the intensive care unit of a hospital, after having been shot by her brother the day before. The reason? She had married without her sibling’s consent, even though her father had accepted the match. The killing was a sore reminder that, despite the recent achievement of the domestic violence law, Kuwait still has a long way to go to end the scourge of honor killings, and that Article 153 enshrined in the law.

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