Kuwait is not ranked in the 2012 SIGI due to missing data for one or more SIGI variables. However, the country note below sets out information and data relating to variables where this is available information.
The country was ranked 71 out of 102 in the 2009 Social Institutions and Gender Index.
Kuwait stands in 63rd place in the 2011 Human Development Index (out of 187 countries), with a score of 0.760, and has a Gender Inequality Index score of 0.229. Kuwait is ranked 105th in the 2011 Global Gender Gap Index, with a value of 0.6322.
Under the Personal Status Act (1984), family matters are governed by Sharia law, but handled within the civil court system. Sunni and Shiite Muslims have recourse to courts that adhere to their respective schools of Islam.
The legal age of marriage in Kuwait is 15 years for women and 17 years for men. Early marriage is increasingly rare, but for the most part marriage is still very much an arrangement between families (although marriages cannot be concluded without the consent of both spouses). According to Sunni family law, women cannot freely choose their husbands; they must obtain prior approval from their families or guardians. This is not the case for Shiite women, who can marry without their guardian’s consent once they have reached the age of maturity (25). Up-to-date data is not available, but a 2004 United Nations report drawing on data from 1996 estimated that at that time, 5.4% of Kuwaiti girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed. Sexual relations outside of marriage are illegal for women and men.
Both Sunni and Shia family laws permit polygamy. Under Kuwaiti law, Muslim men may take up to four wives (provided they can support them financially), and are not legally required to obtain consent from existing wives before marrying subsequently, unless they intend to bring the new wife to live in the same house as the existing wife/wives.
Kuwaiti women face discrimination in regard to parental authority. Sharia law views fathers as the natural guardians of children, whereas mothers are seen as the physical, but not legal, custodians. In the event of divorce, Sunni family law gives mothers the right to custody of sons until they reach the age of 15 years and of daughters until they marry. But under Shiite family law, women are only granted custody of girls up until the age of seven, and boys to the age of two. If a woman has custody of her children, the father is legally obliged to provide her with financial support, but there are no penalties in place in the event that he fails to do so. However, divorced women who choose to remarry during this period lose their custody rights. Men have the right to repudiate their wives, i.e. divorce them unilaterally. Women in Kuwait have the right to seek a divorce under certain circumstances, e.g. in cases of domestic violence, if the husband has been imprisoned, or if he has deserted her. In cases where a husband has divorced his wife unilaterally, she is entitled to financial compensation. Women cannot confer citizenship to children born to non-Kuwaiti fathers.
Sharia law provides for detailed and complex calculations of inheritance shares. Women may inherit from their fathers, mothers, husbands or children and, under certain conditions, from other family members. However, their share is generally smaller than that to which men are entitled, and in general, female heirs are entitled to inherit half that of male heirs.  Under Sunni family law, women are able to inherit physical property, whereas under Shiite family law, women can only inherit the value of that property. Shia inheritance regulations are generally more egalitarian to women compared to Sunni regulations. It is not clear whether women’s inheritance rights are respected in practice.
 Al-Mughni (2010) p.227; CEDAW (2010) p.27  Al-Mughni (2010) p.227  ECOSOC (2003) p.147; CEDAW (2010) p.28  Al-Mughni (2010) p.232; CEDAW (2010) p.27  Al-Mughni (2010) p.232  Al-Mughni (2010) p.232  United Nations (2004) p.186  Al-Mughni (2010) p.228  Al-Mughni (2010) p.231  Al-Mughni (2010) p.231  Uhlman (2004)  Al-Mughni (2010) p.231  Al-Mughni (2010) p.231  Al-Mughni (2010) p.243  Al-Mughni (2010) p.231  Al-Mughni (2010) p.231  CEDAW (2010) p.28; Al-Mughni (2010) pp. 231-232  CEDAW (2010) p.28; Al-Mughni (2010) pp. 231-232  Al-Mughni (2010) p.226; CEDAW (2010) p.20  UN-HABITAT (2005) p.11  UN-HABITAT (2005) p.11  UN-HABITAT (2005) p.11; Al-Mughni (2010) p.234  Al-Mughni (2010) p.230
Under the Kuwaiti Civil Status Code, married women are in theory protected from physical and psychological violence from their husbands. But in reality, women are afforded little legal or practical protection in domestic violence cases, with the police and courts generally trying to resolve family disputes informally, and no shelters or other support services available to victims. Lack of data makes it difficult to estimate the prevalence of violence against women in Kuwait: no statistics are collected, either by the government or NGOs, and few women report cases of domestic violence, out of fear or shame.
Rape is a criminal offence in Kuwait, but spousal rape is not recognised. In contrast to the lack of attention given to physical and sexual assaults that occur within the home, rape and sexual assault committed outside of the home receive adequate responses from the police, and perpetrators found guilty face a prison sentence or the death penalty. Sexual harassment in the workplace is not recognised as a specific crime; this is of particular concern in regard to domestic workers (see below).
So-called ‘honour’ killings do occur in Kuwait. Under the Penal Code, lower penalties are meted out if the (male) perpetrator kills his daughter, wife, sister or mother in a fit of rage, having discovered that she had committed an act of ‘zina’ (unlawful sexual relations).
Trafficking in persons is illegal in Kuwait, under the Penal Code. A large number of migrant domestic workers (mainly women) enter the country each year legally, but there are reports that many are subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude by their employers. They are at particular risk of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of their employees, and are not protected by employment legislation. In addition, the Kuwaiti government has thus far appeared reluctant to prosecute Kuwaiti citizens found to have abused their domestic workers.  The Kuwait Union of Domestic Labor Offices provides some limited services to domestic workers, including legal support, and there is also a shelter in operation.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is reportedly not practised in Kuwait. The legal situation in regard to FGM is unclear.
Women in Kuwait have the right to obtain information about, and access to contraception, which is provided through government health clinics. According to a 2010 UNFPA report, 52% of married women reported using some form of contraception. Abortion is only legal in cases of foetal impairment, or if the mother’s life is in danger. In all cases, the woman’s husband or male guardian has to give permission for the procedure to go ahead.
 ECOSOC (2003) p.146  ECOSOC (2003) p.147; Al-Mughni (2010) p.233  Al-Mughni (2010) p.233  ECOSOC (2003) pp.146, 147  Al-Mughni (2010) p.233  Al-Mughni (2010) p.237  ECOSOC (2003) p.147; Al-Mughni (2010) p.227  ECOSOC (2003) p.146  CIA (2010)  Amnesty International (2010) p.202; ECOSOC (2003) p.147; CIA (2010)  CIA (2010)  Al-Mughni (2010) p.233  Al-Mughni (2010) p.241  UNFPA (2010) p.96  UNDP (2007)  Al-Mughni (2010) p.242
Under-five mortality rates are low overall, and are slightly higher for boys than for girls. No gender-disaggregated data is available for rates of malnutrition. Gender-disaggregated immunization rates are also not available, but according to UNICEF, immunization rates overall are very high (99%). According to UNICEF, primary and secondary enrolment rates are higher for girls than for boys (secondary gross enrolment rates: boys 87%, girls 93%). In addition, women make up the bulk of university students, although is partly because men are more likely to travel abroad to study.
The figures above would not indicate that Kuwait is a country of concern in regard to son preference in access to education.
The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 1.43. Analysis of sex ratio data across age groups shows elevated sex ratios amongst younger groups, providing evidence that Kuwait is a country of concern in relation to missing women. The elevated sex ratio for adults can be attributed to migration.
Women in Kuwait have the full legal right to own and manage land, property, income and assets. The law also allows women over 21 to have access to bank loans and enter into financial contracts, without permission from their male guardian. Law 2/2011 decreed that, divorced and widowed Kuwaiti women are now entitled to interest free housing loans, the same as Kuwaiti men. The UNDP Kuwait office reports that, despite women previously being concentrated in the public sector, there is now a growing number of women entrepreneurs which has been accompanied by a change in image of Kuwait women as successful entrepreneurs.
There are no legal restrictions on women’s freedom of access to public space in Kuwait. In October 2009, the Constitutional Court ruled that the 1962 law requiring married women to obtain their husband’s permission in order to apply for a passport was unconstitutional. However, social norms dictate that women obtain permission from their family or husband before going out at night or travelling abroad. It is also considered socially unacceptable for an unmarried woman (or an unmarried man) to live alone.
There are reports that freedom of expression is at times not respected in Kuwait, and there are also some restrictions in place on freedom of association and assembly. This limits the autonomy and activities of NGOs, including those working on women’s rights, which face considerable logistical obstacles to registration, as well as scrutiny of their operations. That said, women’s rights activists were able to mount large-scale demonstrations in support of changes to the country’s electoral law, to enable women to vote. In addition, according to Al-Mughni, women’s rights issues are discussed in the media in Kuwait, with a wide range of liberal and conservative views represented.
Women only gained the right to vote and stand for election in Kuwait in 2005. 20 women stood for election to the National Assembly in 2009, of whom four were elected – the first women ever to sit in the Assembly. There are now five women in the National Assembly, accounting for 7.7% of members, as well as three government ministers. In 2012, no women were elected. Despite – or perhaps because of – Kuwaiti women’s long exclusion from formal political life, the country has long had an active women’s movement, campaigning for women’s economic and political rights, and their access to educational and cultural opportunities. This included a long campaign to push for a change in the electoral law.
Pregnant women in Kuwait are entitled to 70 days’ paid maternity leave, and under the 2010 Labour Act, are protected from discrimination on the basis of gender in employment, including in regard to pay. With the exception of a few professions, women are legally forbidden from working at night, as well as from working in the industrial sector, or working in occupations deemed hazardous to their health. However, they have been able to serve in the army since 1999, and in the police force since 2009. In addition, a husband can prohibit his wife from working if he deems that work would negatively affect the family’s interests. Overall, 44% (nationals and non-nationals) of working age women were employed in 2007.
 Al-Mughni (2010) p.229  Amnesty International (2010) p.202; Freedom House (2010)  Al-Mughni (2010) p.230  Al-Mughni (2010) p.242  Amnesty International (2010) pp.201-202; Freedom House (2010)  Al-Mughni (2010) pp.225, 240; Freedom House (2010)  Al-Mughni (2010) p.238  Al-Mughni (2010) p.239  UNICEF (2007) p.78; CEDAW (2010) pp.16, 19; Freedom House (2010)  Amnesty International (2010) p.201; Al-Mughni (2010) p.224; Freedom House (2010)  Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.); Al-Mughni (2010) p.224  BBC (2012)  Al-Mughni (2010) p.223  Al-Mughni (2010) p.224  ILO (2009); CEDAW (2010) p.15  ECOSOC (2003) p.147; Al-Mughni (2010) p.236  Sharaf (n.d.); Arabic News.com (1999)  Al-Mughni (2010) p.230  Al-Mughni (2010) p.236
Under effective British control from 1899, Kuwait became independent in 1961. Since then, Kuwait has been ruled by the Al-Sabah royal family, although there is also an elected legislature in place. In 1990-91, the country was invaded by Iraq, causing considerable damage to the country’s infrastructure and the oil industry, on which the economy is dependent. Kuwait is classed as a high income country by the World Bank. The majority of Kuwaiti nationals are Muslim, mostly Sunni (approximately 70%). A large proportion of the population however are foreign-born nationals, estimated at 45% in 2010.
Education and employment opportunities opened up for Kuwaiti women in the 1960s, but their participation in the political arena remained severely restricted until May 2005, when they were granted the right to vote and run for office for the first time. As of 2009, there were four women in Kuwait’s parliament. In the 2012 elections, no women were elected. Women have considerably more freedom of movement and greater visibility in public life than is the case in some of the other Gulf states. However, the presence of a strong Islamist faction in Kuwait’s parliament since 1992 has led to the passing of several laws that reinforce gender segregation in society, and promote women’s roles as mothers over all other.
Article 29 of the Kuwait Constitution sets out the principle of equality and non-discrimination, but does not contain any specific protections against gender-based discrimination. Kuwait ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1994, but with reservations on Article 9, paragraph 2 concerning citizenship rights; Article 7 regarding equal voting rights (subsequently withdrawn); and Article 16, paragraph 1(f ), which calls for equal rights on guardianship and adoption. Kuwait has not yet ratified the Optional Protocol.
 CIA (2010); Freedom House (2010)  CIA (2010)  CIA (2010); Freedom House (2010)  World Bank (n.d.)  Al-Mughni (2010) p.229; CIA (2010)  CIA (2010)  Al-Mughni (2010); Freedom House (2010)  Al-Mughni (2010) p.225  ECOSOC (2003) p.146; Al-Mughni (2010) p.226  United Nations Treat Collection (n.d.); Al-Mughni (2010) p.228  United Nations Treat Collection (n.d.)
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