KUWAIT: The constitutional court, the highest court in the country, ruled yesterday that a 19-year old legislation that bans the mixing of male and female students at universities is in line with the constitution and turned down a challenge against it. The challenge was filed in February by two male students and a lawyer, contesting that the law violates gender equality stipulated in the constitution and overburdens the government with highly expensive additional costs.

The law was passed by the National Assembly, which was controlled by Islamist and conservative MPs, in 1996, and gave the government five years to implement it. It requires the government to completely separate male and female students at lecture halls, labs, restaurants and other activities. It also stipulates that the government must take into consideration these requirements while building new universities.

The Assembly again passed another law in 2000 to extend the ban on coeducation to private universities which started coming up at that time. The court said that it found no contradiction between the law and the constitution and accordingly threw out the petition, the first of its kind against the law. Liberal MPs repeatedly tried to get the law amended in the Assembly, but all their attempts were thwarted by Islamist and tribal MPs who insist that segregation of the sexes is part of implementing the Islamic sharia law. The door is not completely shut for fresh attempts against the law as new challenges can be submitted to the constitutional court by other students or lawyers.

The same court however accepted a challenge against a provision in the new domestic helpers law which requires that owners of maids recruitment offices must hold at least a higher secondary certificate. The petition was filed by owners of 19 offices saying that the requirement is irrelevant. The court accepted the challenge and scrapped the provision.

The Assembly meanwhile decided to delay amendments to the law governing the Anti-Corruption Authority in order to wait for a scheduled ruling by the constitutional court on the law on Sunday. MPs decided on Tuesday that they would study and approve the amendments in yesterday’s session as a precaution for what the constitutional court would do in a bid to prevent any legislative vacuum. But the legal and legislative committee told the Assembly yesterday that it has decided that it would be better to wait for the constitutional court’s judgement before altering the law. The Assembly agreed. The delay was backed by a majority of MPs under the condition that the legal committee must meet and amend the law on Sunday if the court nullifies the law.

In other developments, the Assembly yesterday approved an unprecedented law for the rights of animals in the country, which regulates breeding of animals and bans the import of wild and dangerous animals. A report by the parliamentary public utilities commission said the law says that animal owners must provide suitable shelters and care, and sets strict requirements and terms to keep an animal. It also aims to secure animal welfare and protect people from wild animals that have been owned and announced for sale on social media without supervision by the competent authorities.

During the session, MP Saleh Ashour called on the minister of social affairs and labor to apply stricter controls on fundraising activities to ensure that charity funds do not land in terrorists’ hands. Minister Hind Al-Sabeeh insisted that the ministry applies the law and makes sure that charity money goes to the intended beneficiaries in cooperation with the foreign ministry.

By B Izzak