The Oxford English Dictionary defines a ‘feminist’ as ‘an advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women’. It also worth mentioning that the term “feminist” was among the most searched terms in Merriam Webster dictionary’s word of the year for 2017. This highlights the world’s growing interest in the movement for women’s rights. The term feminism was first used in the 19th century after it was invented by the French philosopher Charles Fourier in 1837 when writing about the indelible link between women’s status and social progress.
Since then, the movement for equality between men and women has been able to pave its way to several countries and regions including the Middle East, which has seen many names among key figures leading equality campaigns and has had a clear impact on the feminist movement. Yet, these movements have been accused throughout history to upset religious groups and conspiring to stabilize society, especially by Islamist groups.
However, feminist movements in the Middle East have been working hard and continue to be seen as a threat to the traditional distribution of roles between men and women and a threat to identity and traditions. It is well known that the early beginnings of the feminist movements in the Gulf region were influenced by the prevailing cultural movement in Egypt and Syria, as well as the writings of thinkers who addressed women’s issues such as Qasim Amin and pioneers of the Arab feminist movement such as Huda Shaarawi.
The first signs of the Kuwaiti women’s movement can be traced back to the 1940s, where girls’ education began to spread despite the difficulties due to conservative forces opposing girls’ education. The long struggle of Kuwaiti women was a success, and women were granted the right to participate in the Kuwaiti parliament. A number of women were able to win elections of the National Assembly, but unfortunately for only one term. This is why we need to work harder for the empowerment and awareness of women to have more than one or two women in the parliament.
Many people believe that the existence of a feminist movement in Kuwait is less important because Kuwaiti women have all their rights as they claim, and this idea was entrenched after women gained their political rights. But, the fact that progress is in the interest of Kuwaiti women today is due to individual moves by some women who faced injustice in cases such as the housing law, which distinguishes between the rights of men and women. I think there are still outstanding issues that need a lot of efforts, including domestic violence, whose victims are mostly women, and the rights of Kuwaiti woman who are married to non-Kuwaitis.
I believe that the struggle of women around the world has made a big difference in the world today, by launching several campaigns and movements, the most important of which is the feminist movement that worked for the rights of women with the aim of gender equality at many levels, including political, economic and social. Many women today suffer discrimination in many parts of the world, the result of many intellectual, social, economic and legal accumulations that have produced many feminist movements to demand an end to injustice from women.
I believe that what women in Kuwait and all of our Arab countries need are NGOs to be closer to the problems that women suffer from, regardless of all ethnic, religious and class boundaries, pressuring decision-making centers to achieve equality and raising community awareness. I believe that that feminism is a long road that requires patience and intensive efforts to raise awareness of women and cooperation with all institutions and civil society organizations.
By Muna Al-Fuzai