This despite the fact that doing so contradicts the 2015 decision by the country’s Constitutional Court, which clarified that the 1996 gender segregation law entails separating young men and women within the classroom; it does not necessitate separate classes for each gender. As a professor at Kuwait University for the last twenty years, I am witness to the fact that many classes are fully segregated, and those that are not technically segregated are in practice segregated: without exception, young men never sit beside young women.
Young men and women rarely even speak to each other inside the classroom. This generation of students is self-segregating in classrooms and on campus, where—as they are fully aware—they are being surveilled by cameras positioned in every corner of the university. Our students do not need policing by any committees; they do it themselves. Leaving aside the question of why a modern nation state would even require a Values Promotion Committee within its parliament, let’s address the more urgent question of why this committee would feel the need to beat the dead horse of gender segregation at this particular historical moment?
What problem exactly does gender segregation in universities and schools solve? None at all, it would seem, given that life outside the classroom is unsegregated—hallways, cafeterias, meetings, conferences, parking lots, malls, and ministries, to say nothing of the post-education job market. Yet, we must assume that the Values Promotion Committee, along with the acting head of Kuwait University, and the Minister of Education and Higher Education have based their decision on some kind of logic with some strategic outcome in mind.
Deflection seems to be the most obvious goal. Again, speaking from experience, my institution, Kuwait University, has much work to do toward raising academic and research standards, as well as safeguarding institutional autonomy and efficacy. Capitulating to politicians does not serve the interests of our academic institution or our students. Instead of prioritizing the segregation of already effectively segregated classrooms, Kuwait University should be laser focused on how to improve quality of education, research, and institutional advancement. As for the interfering politicians, this little song and dance has garnered them an avalanche of attention in our attention-seeking society.
Their position seems fortified. If we look beyond the surface, however, the menace being masked by their victory is a many-headed Hydra, threatening the very survival of the country. Here are some of the issues that gender segregation attempts to divert attention away from: the climate catastrophe that will threaten Kuwait’s future habitability; the woefully low academic standards at the elementary, secondary, and university levels, as confirmed by numerous national and international reports published over the last decade; the over-taxed healthcare system in dire need of development and support; a non-diversified economy that lags behind our regional neighbors; our government’s lack of planning for a sustainable future in the face of climate threats and a post-oil economy; our rising racism and xenophobia, effective at harnessing and misdirecting rage, worthless at solving any actual problems; among many other issues.
The Values Promotion Committee wants to stop time by focusing on issues that play no role in the present, nor in preparing the conditions for a viable future. But time stops for no committee and for no country, either. It is no longer up to outdated politicians to decide nor for the weak administration of any institution to decide. It is up to young people to decide for themselves how they want to navigate their fragile and threatened future. Politicians, administrators, and adults in almost every capacity have failed our youth again and again.
While I cannot speak for them, I imagine that they care much less about gender segregation in the classroom than they do about whether they will have fulfilling jobs once they graduate; about whether they will have a future in this country thanks to irreversible climate damage; about how their bodies are being affected by the poison spewed into the air by cars and oil production; about whether their rights and freedoms as citizens will be protected by their constitution and their parliament. They deserve more, and they deserve it now—we all do.
We see straight through these diversionary tactics to the real menaces threatening us, and we’ve had just about enough. Note: Dr Mai Al-Nakib is the author of the collection of short stories The Hidden Light of Objects (Bloomsbury 2014) and the novel An Unlasting Home (Mariner Books-HarperCollins 2022). She is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Kuwait University where she has been teaching for the last 20 years.