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Kuwait introduce female police 9, September 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait.
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Kuwait is a country of many apparent contradictions. At times it appears to be extremely conservative, for example, although relatively freely available, alcohol is banned. Yet a brief wander around Kuwait’s malls shows women unapologetically not covering their hair and even – gasp – wearing tight-fitting clothing.

These contradictions sometimes cause difficulties. When, a few years ago, Kuwait decided to change to the more internationally accepted Friday-Saturday (as opposed to their Thursday-Friday) weekend, to read some op-eds at the time was to think that the apocalypse was imminent, such was the uproar. [Indeed, one columnist and MP was aghast that they would be following the Zionist State.]

Kuwait did not always have this split-personality. Back in the 1970s (and before) Kuwait was relatively liberal. Indeed, my old headteacher frequently remarked that when she arrived in Kuwait it was perfectly acceptable for women to wear (what would today be considered to be) obscenely short skirts.

The growth of Islamists over time slowly but surely robbed Kuwait of these socially liberal policies. In 1983 they gained sufficient power in Parliament to have alcohol banned. Until America and the international coalition rescued Kuwait from being relegated to an Iraqi sub-province in 1991, Kuwait did not have especially close relations with the West. From then on, however, the exigencies of security overcame whatever cultural desires prevented closer contact previously. Indeed, for much of the 2000s, up to 60% of Kuwait was given over to the US military for its use.

It is also interesting to note that the 1991 invasion was something of a watershed event for women. Just like women in the UK in the aftermath of the First World War, women proved that they were indeed ‘useful’. The few Kuwaiti men that stayed behind found it difficult to move freely in occupied Kuwait. Women, however, could move around with relative freedom; hence, their subsequently improved status. Still, despite frequent attempts to politically emancipate women, it was not until 2005 that they got the vote.

Today, Kuwait is – like many countries – split in two with traditionalists versus modernizers. This can be frequently seen in Kuwait’s rambunctiously populist Parliament where Islamists have used their powers in recent years to bring Kuwait to a proverbial halt over their desires to stop changes in their society.

Predictably, therefore, the introduction of female police in July this year caused something of a panic for the Islamists. One MP, Mohammed Hayef, vociferously spluttered that this was

an abuse to the female identity, a violation of Islamic ethics and a blind imitation of western and westernised countries. There will be dire consequences if the minister fails to correct his mistake.

Indeed! Whatever next? Male-female equality! Clearly – again – the end is nigh for Kuwait.

The interesting article in The National also mentioned that initially policewomen had problems with arrogant, cheeky youths in Kuwait’s malls. After dishing out verbal abuse groups of boys were taken to the police station and – shock, horror – had their preciously styled, gelled and coiffured hair shaved off. What a fantastic punishment.

So far it appears that the women are only allowed to patrol the malls, the airport and other female-only areas. Still, one step at a time.