With the end of June 2020, a new chapter in the legal gains for Kuwaiti women began. Attorney General Dirar Al-Asousi issued a decision to transfer eight female Kuwaiti deputy prosecutors and nominate them to work as third-degree judges. Their names were announced within the decision to also transfer four chief prosecutors and 42 deputy prosecutors. The decision also included that they, along with the rest of the nominees, shall enroll in a course at the Kuwait Institute for Judicial Studies at the beginning of September 2020.
This announcement, regarding Kuwaiti women being allowed to assume the position of Judge, and to join the bench in court, has reignited a persistent debate about the capabilities of women and the legality of their empowerment. Terms such as “halal- allowable”, “haram- forbidden”, and the “physiological set-up of women” have resurfaced. These terms have long been used to justify gender inequality and deny women their rights, as well as deny them any leadership positions. Whenever a man would allow a woman to do something, we’d hear the sounds of applause ringing around us, while others were denouncing and crying about the loss of their opportunities, which are now shared by a qualified woman!
Perhaps it is unfair to discuss the delay of Kuwaiti women in accessing the judicial bench, for in the Arab region, Kuwaiti women were racing against time when it came to obtaining their academic and practical (professional) rights. However, the situation in Kuwait has been affected by several factors, most critically the Iranian Revolution, followed by the second Gulf War, as well as the Kuwaiti Authority’s constant attempt to flirt with Islamic trends and movements. Still, according to what many have witnessed, despite the strength of the Islamists and their keenness to limit or delay the roles of women, Kuwaiti women were able to prove their presence strongly and seriously during the past three decades. The Kuwaiti woman was able to banish obstacles from her path one after another. Nevertheless, they still need more time to be on the right path, and for the community to accept their participation. This can be achieved by consolidating the opportunities for academic and practical qualifications and opening the door to more empowerment in various types of courts, so that they could also gain other rights, foremost of which is naturalizing their children.
This step forward in terms of the Kuwaiti women accessing the judicial bench reminds us of the first entry of Gulf women into the judiciary. This was done by the Bahraini woman in 2006, by appointing Mona Al-Kuwari as a judge in the Juvenile Court. This wasn’t surprising, for Bahrain is a leading Gulf country in the feminist movement. However, the progress of women in Bahrain has been remarkably frozen as a result of being affected by several factors during the past five decades.
Perhaps it is unfair to discuss the delay of Kuwaiti women in accessing the judicial bench, for in the Arab region, Kuwaiti women were racing against time when it came to obtaining their academic and practical (professional) rights.
This conflict that began more than three decades ago reminds me of my mother’s conversation with a Kuwaiti woman in the late 1980s, when we were spending our summer vacation in Egypt. At that time, the Kuwaiti woman was telling my mother about the experience of her daughter in studying law and her concern as a “mother” about society’s lack of acceptance of the idea of a woman working in law. I was six years old at the time, but this conversation about women’s rights had caught my attention and stuck in my memory, and had continued when the same family visited us later in Mecca to perform Umrah. At the time, the daughter had already graduated as a lawyer and the matter had become an irreversible reality. This prompted me to question and think about the situation in my country, where law was not one of the specializations available for women to study. I found myself wondering: What? A female lawyer?! Like those female lawyers we see in the movies?