Women in Kuwait are calling for an end to sexual harassment in the country and the introduction of laws that clamp down on violators, who activists say have gotten away unpunished for far too long.
Under the Arabic hashtag “Lan Asket” – translated to “I will not be silenced” in English – women shared countless stories online of being catcalled in shopping malls and grocery stores, followed by speeding cars on crowded streets, and touched inappropriately in broad daylight.
The campaign was first ignited by Kuwaiti blogger Ascia al-Faraj, who spoke out about her own experience with sexual harassment in the country.
“Every time I go out, there is someone who harasses me or harasses another woman in the street. Are you not ashamed?” al-Faraj had said in a video posted on her Snapchat.
In a country where speaking openly about harassment is considered a taboo, the movement quickly garnered attention from everyday women– including Kuwaiti citizens, expatriates living in the country, conservative women, and more liberal women.
“The movement is for every single person in Kuwait. We are all not going to be silent about any injustice that happens to us,” the founder of the Lan Asket Instagram page, Dr. Shayma Shamo, told Al Arabiya English.
The Lan Asket account has been used to share the stories of people who experienced sexual harassment and infographics on the topic of harassment.
The page, which was launched two weeks ago, has so far amassed almost 11,000 followers and has received nationwide support from local businesses, Kuwaiti Members of Parliament, and even the US embassy.
Shamo, who is working alongside a team to translate and verify the stories being sent to Lan Asket, said that about 50 percent of the people who came forward had experienced harassment in Kuwait when they were under the age of 18.
Twenty percent of those who came forward were sexually harassed between the ages of one and 12, Shamo told Al Arabiya English.
The women were often too scared to come forward, and those that did were either dismissed or were never contacted by the police after filing a complaint, she said.
The Kuwaiti doctor is currently working with a team of lawyers, developers, and activists to help build an application that allows victims of sexual harassment to safely report incidents to the police and ensure that their cases are being handled.
Voices for change
The movement aims to change the way common incidents of sexual harassment are seen within Kuwaiti society as well as amend the country’s laws to protect victims who come forward, Kuwaiti activist and designer Najeeba Hayat told Al Arabiya English.
Real change will only come if people openly discuss how often women are harassed in the country and if harassers are punished for their actions, she added.
“We need a three-dimensional approach to getting rid of harassment. Harassment, at the end of the day, is not just an action born out of nothing. Harassment is a social problem.”
Hayat, who has a background in political science, has also been working with other activists, lawyers, and educators to lobby for political change as the movement continues to gain momentum in Kuwait.
The movement sparked a conversation in the country, which Kuwaiti historian and activist Lujain al-Farhan said was waiting to happen.
“To some, seeing a person who is willing to listen and [giving] them a safe space is more than enough, to others… it’s a sign of hope! That many are talking, seeking change, working towards a safer environment gives and assures that we are all in this together,” al-Farhan told Al Arabiya English.
Al-Farhan has been using her platform to offer Kuwaitis insight into movements around the world and throughout history that have called for change and for an end to sexual harassment.
“By showing how change and laws have been decreed in the past… If [change was possible in] those earlier times, why not us? We have the capacities and capabilities to do [the same now],” she said.
The women’s calls were heard by MP Abdulaziz al-Saqobi, who last week submitted a proposal to the Kuwaiti parliament for a law that criminalizes sexual harassment.
According to the proposal, violators will be punished with a prison sentence that does not exceed a year and a fine of up to 3,000 KD ($36,428), or either one of those two punishments.
Kuwait currently has no laws prohibiting sexual harassment.