Young mother’s murder sparks outcry for greater safety for women in Kuwait


Farah Hamza Akbar was murdered in Kuwait last week despite earlier pleas from her family to the authorities to protect her from her harasser who abducted her in front of her daughter and niece.

Farah’s family told local media that the man was not known to them but that they had previously reported him for harassment.

A statement from the interior ministry reported that a man had seized Farah Akbar from her car and taken her to an unknown location before leaving her outside the hospital where she was pronounced dead.

He was arrested shortly afterwards and confessed to stabbing her in the chest, the ministry said.

The man has now been charged with first degree murder, which in Kuwait is punishable by death.

Following the murder of Farah Akbar, women and men gathered to express their condemnation at Irada Square, close to the sweeping white building of the National Assembly where an all-male parliament was elected in December last year.

It was also where Fatima al-Ajami had worked as a guard before she was allegedly murdered by her brother that same month.

Few details emerged of the background to the young woman’s murder, as is often the case when it comes to women being killed by family members.

But men who kill a female relative for alleged adultery may receive lenient sentences due to an article in the country’s penal code that remains in place despite years of campaigning by activists to have it abolished.

The violent incidents have amplified already growing calls for greater protection for women from violence and harassment in Kuwait. Earlier this year, the social media campaign #Lan_ Asket (I will not be silent) was launched to spotlight the issue of harassment, prompting countless incidents from women.

Reports in recent years of a number of women killed at the hands of family members have also underlined the need for legislation and social change in order for women to feel safe.

A domestic violence law passed last September is seen as a positive step. It includes plans to set up shelters for women and allows for restraining orders to prevent abusers from contacting victims. But there are many reminders of the long road ahead.

Voices who have until recently been under-represented in the dialogue on women’s rights have also begun to emerge in the virtual space, emboldened by the anonymity that social media affords them.

Kuwaiti Feminists is run by a group of women from the country’s largely conservative Bedouin tribal majority. The group’s members choose to remain anonymous and agreed to speak to the BBC via private messages.

“The Bedouin Kuwaiti woman’s problem begins inside the family because the tribe is a state within a state,” said a member of the group. “The Bedouin woman obeys this state whose laws are enacted by her family and her whole environment.”

Activist Hadeel al-Shammari, who is a member of Kuwait’s more than 100,000 stateless Bidun residents, explains that women like her often face added obstacles in seeking help. Members of the Bidun who do not have official identity documents are unable to report abuse or harassment to the authorities.

Lawyer and activist Omneya Ashraf says that although she has not experienced personal threats, she sees through her work the dangers faced by women in her society.

“Just because me, my female friends and family are living in safety, that doesn’t mean that all women are safe. Farah’s case began with harassment and ended in murder. So a woman is not safe.” (Source: BBC)