By Faten Omar

KUWAIT: Parliamentary candidates often make a variety of promises during election campaigns, aiming to garner support and demonstrate their commitment to addressing the needs and concerns of their constituents. But are there any candidates who will consider concerns regarding Kuwait’s discriminatory provisions in the nationality law and articles 182 and 153 of the Kuwaiti penal code (impunity for rapists and “honor” killings).

Kuwait Times spoke with Alanoud Al-Sharekh, founding member of Abolish 153, to learn more about article 153 and her campaign that calls to end honor killings in Kuwait. Al-Sharekh, along with Sheikha Al Nafisi, Amira Behbehani, Sundus Hussein and Lulu Al-Sabah, launched the campaign in 2015. At first, the focus was on raising awareness around the existence of this disturbing article, but soon the conversation shifted to the issue of domestic violence — how it is normalized and the need to introduce legislation to protect survivors — and other basic resources. They also set up a sister organization as a registered volunteer group with the ministry of social affairs in 2016 and widened lobbying efforts to include the needs of survivors as well.

Activist Alanoud Al-Sharekh

Kuwait Times: What is article 153?

Alanoud Al-Sharekh: Article 153 is an archaic law in the penal code, which is in direct violation of Kuwait's constitution. It treats murder in the name of honor as a misdemeanor and justifies it with very sympathetic punishment. It has sadly inspired some foolish acts of violence against women over the years. We want to abolish it for many reasons, the most important among them is that it is not sharia-compliant, ignores the basic human right to a fair trial, and its continued existence poses a threat to family stability and safety.

KT: Have you met any officials regarding the subject?

Al-Sharekh: We have met many government officials, ministers, MPs and other heads of institutions and regional and international organizations working on protecting women from violence over the seven years we have been lobbying to abolish article 153. As a direct result of our efforts, five MPs submitted an urgent bill to abolish article 153 in 2017, and five MPs did the same in 2020 with two separate bills submitted to abolish this article. We are hopeful this will be accomplished soon, as more awareness is raised and the conversation about ending violence becomes more mainstream.

KT: Do you think the new parliament will help abolish article 153?

Al-Sharekh: We are always hopeful that the bill will be put through to a vote by incoming MPs. We had even begun that conversation with the 2022 parliament before it was dissolved. After many years of cooperating with MPs and government bodies, we were part of the movement that saw the family protection law passed in August 2020, even though its implementation is being impeded by groups that sadly still feel that it's their right to physically discipline those weaker than them. We are sure that with enough momentum, we can get rid of all laws that hold us back.

KT: What are your demands from the new candidates?

Al-Sharekh: We saw an escalation in honor killings, harassment and violence against women in general during the COVID pandemic. These cases were highlighted in the news and caused much debate and distress. Promises were made by both MPs and candidates to remedy the situation that have yet to be fulfilled. Protecting women means better legislation and better resource allocation, and we want to see that to be a priority in their campaigns and in office.

KT: Can you tell us why it is important to abolish article 153? What are the benefits for the Kuwaiti society?

Al-Sharekh: A committee was set up within the ministry of justice in the past to review the penal code, because although article 153 is among the most problematic, there are other articles that need to change too. Many MPs have made arguments on why it is essential to abolish this article and how damaging its continued existence is, so the cause is now understood and adopted by many people outside of the campaign itself.

It's important for Kuwait, which is internationally recognized as a humanitarian and peaceful country, to have laws that reflect that. We don't need an exceptional honor killing law because legal alternatives exist for both adultery and murder. Articles similar to 153 have been abolished in neighboring countries in the GCC and across the Arab and Muslim world in recent years, so we are part of a global movement, and not just a local one, and we are sure that in time, it will be abolished in Kuwait as well.