‘We must speak up’: In conservative Kuwait, women have launched their own #MeToo movement

Women in Kuwait are defying conservative norms and a culture of “shame” to speak out against harassment for the first time, in a social media campaign sparked by a popular fashion blogger.

Dozens of testimonies about being stalked, harassed or assaulted have emerged online, focused on the Instagram account “Lan Asket” – Arabic for “I will not be silent”.

Kuwaiti fashion blogger Ascia Al Faraj, who has more than 2.5 million social media followers, said in an explosive video uploaded last week that there is a “problem” in the country.

“Every time I go out, there is someone who harasses me or harasses another woman in the street,” she said in the emotionally-charged video uploaded after a vehicle sped up to “scare” her while she was walking to her car.

“Do you have no shame? We have a problem of harassment in this country, and I have had enough.” 

Ms Faraj’s video sparked a nationwide movement in a country where the #MeToo campaign that took off in the United States in 2017 did not make much of an impact.

Radio and TV shows have hosted activists, lawyers and academics to discuss the issue of harassment, and the US embassy in Kuwait also threw its weight behind the women.

“A campaign worth supporting. We can all do more to prevent harassment against women, whether in the US or in Kuwait. #Lan_asket,” it said in a tweet last week.

The embassy also tweeted a striking graphic that illustrates the campaign – images of three women, one unveiled, one with a headscarf, and another with her face covered – and bearing the slogan “Don’t harass her”.

Activists have also emphasised that foreign women who make up a large portion of the Kuwaiti population, many in menial roles, are among the most vulnerable to assault and abuse.

‘Silence not an option’

Shayma Shamo, a 27-year-old doctor who studied abroad and moved back to Kuwait last year, launched the “Lan Asket” platform after seeing Ms Faraj’s video.

“As soon as I opened the account, the messages started to pour in… from women and girls that have experienced verbal, physical and sexual harassment,” she told AFP.

Ms Faraj said in another video uploaded later that week that she had also received “intense stories” by Indian, Pakistani and Filipina women working in Kuwait.

“The expat community here is incredibly vulnerable and are sometimes harassed at a level that Kuwaiti women will never understand,” she said. 

While there has been tremendous support online, the movement has also faced a backlash from conservative voices who say women should simply dress conservatively to avoid harassment. 

“Silence is no longer an option. We must speak up, unite and defend each other because what is happening is unacceptable,” Dr Shamo told AFP.  

Rothna Begum, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said women were taking the fore in a society where, like many in the Middle East, police often do not take such abuses seriously, and the fear of bringing shame to families silences many.

“These accounts being published are incredibly important to give Kuwaitis a sense of what harassment actually looks like and the terrible harm it causes,” she told AFP.

‘Shame’ culture

The Arabic word “ayb”, or shame in English, is a term that most girls growing up in the region learn at a very early age.  

“Going to the police station is ‘ayb’ and talking about harassment is ‘ayb’,” Dr Shamo said. 

“As soon as a woman starts to speak about being harassed, the questions from family members start: What were you wearing? Who were you with? What time was it?” 

But Kuwaiti women are pushing the boundaries of their society, considered one of the most open in the Gulf region, and where a law against harassment exists on the books, but where discussions about gender-based violence remain taboo.

Lulu Al-Aslawi, a Kuwait media personality whose Instagram feed features her in glossy fashion shoots, said she has been bullied online for the way she dresses.

“Girls don’t speak up over fears of being stigmatised, but we will not stop until we overcome this cancer in society,” she told AFP.

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Kuwait to rebuild Lebanon’s only large grain silo after blast: report

FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the severely damaged grain silo following the massive explosion in Beirut’s port area, Lebanon August 8, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

August 23, 2020

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Kuwait said it will rebuild Lebanon’s only large grain silo that was destroyed by the massive Beirut port explosion, raising fears of food shortages in a country already in financial meltdown.

The destruction of the 120,000-tonne capacity structure at the port, the main entry point for food imports, meant buyers must rely on smaller private storage facilities for their wheat purchases with no government reserves to fall back on.

Kuwait’s ambassador to Lebanon, Abdulaal al-Qenaie, said in comments to local radio VdL at the weekend that the silo was first built in 1969 with a Kuwaiti development loan.

The Gulf monarchy will now rebuild the silo so it remains a symbol of “how to manage relations between two brotherly countries that respect each other”, Qenaie was cited as saying.

The port explosion killed at least 180 people, injured thousands and wrecked swathes of the Lebanese capital, pushing the government to resign.

The now caretaker economy minister, Raoul Nehme, has reassured the public that there would be no flour or bread crisis in Lebanon, which buys almost all its wheat from abroad.

Plans for another grain silo in Lebanon’s second largest port Tripoli were shelved years ago due to a lack of funding, a U.N. official, port official and regional grain expert told Reuters earlier this month.

Humanitarian aid has poured into Lebanon. But foreign donors have made clear they will not bail out the state without reforms to tackle entrenched corruption and negligence.

Gulf Arab states who once gave Lebanon financial support have grown weary in recent years of the Iran-backed Hezbollah’s expanding role in state affairs.

(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous and Ellen Francis; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Kuwait ruler leaves the country to complete medical treatment in the U.S.

FILE PHOTO: Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al- Jaber Al-Sabah witnesses a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, July 9, 2018. Andy Wong/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

July 23, 2020

CAIRO (Reuters) – Kuwait’s 91-year-old ruler Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah left the country early on Thursday for the United States to complete his medical treatment, the state news agency reported.

Sheikh Sabah, who has ruled Kuwait since 2006, underwent successful surgery on Sunday, his office said this week, for an unspecified condition.

(Reporting by Hesham Abdul Khalek; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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Kuwait expands curfew, extends public sector work suspension

KUWAIT (Reuters) – Kuwait will extend the suspension of work in the public sector including at government ministries until May 31 and expand a nationwide curfew to 16 hours as part of efforts to combat the novel coronavirus, a government spokesman said on Monday.

He told a televised news conference that the 4 pm to 8 am curfew would go into effect at the start of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which could fall on Thursday or later this week depending on the sighting of the new crescent moon.

Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous

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