By Nawara Fattahova

KUWAIT: Over 150 people gathered in Irada Square in front of the National Assembly yesterday to protest against the violation of women’s rights and freedoms. Participants held placards in English and Arabic with slogans including “Kuwait is a civil country ruled by the constitution”, “Personal freedom is secured by article 30 of the constitution” and “No future for a nation without equity”, among others.

Ibtihal Al-Khateeb, political activist and teacher at Kuwait University, said the attendees gathered to defend freedoms in general and women’s freedoms in particular. “These include simple issues such as practicing sports by women to serious issues like joining the army. We should deliver a message that freedoms of all kinds are among basic human rights, and if we let go of small rights, our bigger rights will be abandoned,” she said.

Men too participated in the demonstration. Mishaan Al-Barrak, member of the Kuwait Progressive Movement, said people are participating to counter attacks on public and private freedoms. “Recently, we have noticed increasing violations of women’s rights. We came to represent and speak on behalf of marginalized women such as bedoons, domestic workers and others who don’t have the right to speak. They suffer from repression and violence, and we want to deliver their voice,” he told Kuwait Times.

The protest came after a women’s yoga retreat that was denounced as “immoral” was postponed over the weekend after authorities said it needed a permit. The defense ministry last month imposed new rules on women in the military, saying they have to wear a hijab, need permission from a male guardian to join and are not allowed to carry weapons.

Kuwaiti women, who earned the right to vote in 2005, have long been pushing the boundaries of their society, considered one of the most open in the region. Last year, they defied conservative norms and a culture of “shame” to speak out against harassment for the first time.