The Relationship between Development and Gender Equality: In Search of New Perspectives on Sustainable Development through the Lens of the 1959 Kuwaiti Nationality Law

By Williamson, Myra E. J. B. | Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal, January 2018 | Go to article overview

The Relationship between Development and Gender Equality: In Search of New Perspectives on Sustainable Development through the Lens of the 1959 Kuwaiti Nationality Law


Williamson, Myra E. J. B., Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal


The Kuwaiti Government has honoured all international obligations toward women.                     Sheikha Latifa Al-Fahad Al-Salem Al-Sabah (1) 

Introduction

This article addresses several overlapping issues: sustainable development, gender justice, human rights, nationality and the links between these concepts (Kuwait Times, 2017). (2) The article begins by considering whether Kuwait is a 'developed' or 'developing' state and then it provides a brief overview of gender and development in Kuwait. Next, it examines the Kuwait Nationality Law 1959 to ascertain the connection between gender equality and sustainable development. The central argument is that equal rights to citizenship between male and female citizens is the most fundamental human right which should be prioritised to achieve all other sustainable development goals. Gender equality in citizenship laws will not guarantee the realisation of all development goals, but it is a necessary step. The article draws on empirical research conducted by the author. This research revealed that when asked about their citizenship rights, many educated Kuwaiti women do not feel entitled to, and do not even seek to aspire to, traditional notions of gender equality. This article tries to articulate the survey respondents' perspectives and explain this phenomenon. However, the article does not attempt to address other areas concerning women's rights and development, such as domestic workers' rights. It does not go so far as to argue that foreign domestic workers in Kuwait should be granted citizenship as a means of protecting their human rights, an argument made elsewhere. (3) Recently, laws have been passed which are aimed at improving the lot of foreign domestic workers but the effectiveness (or otherwise) of those laws is beyond the scope of this article. (4)

Kuwait: developing or developed?

Law and development has traditionally been concerned with the relationship between legal systems and 'development' (the social, political and economic changes) in Third World countries. The term 'Third World' has fallen out of favour and has been replaced with 'developing countries', 'developing economies' and the 'global South'. The exact meaning of these terms is somewhat unclear. The group of countries that fit the usual description of 'Third World', 'developing' or 'Global South' include the low percapita income counties of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the South Pacific. Kuwait is not part of the 'First World', since it was not a capitalist, developed, industrialised country aligned with the US either during or after World War II. (5) It was not part of the Eastern Bloc and therefore it does not fit into the 'Second World'. (6) Therefore, Kuwait must have been part of the Third World. Third World countries are now usually referred to as 'developing countries' but Kuwait is not always included in lists of them (IUGG, 2016). According to the World Bank, Kuwait is a 'high-income' country (World Bank, 2017) and the Human Development Index (HDI) classifies Kuwait as one of the 49 countries that enjoy very high human development. (7) Therefore, the data confirms Kuwait is a high-income developing country (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2018). This seems reasonable if we include social, political and economic development. Kuwait is obviously doing very well on the economic measure. (8) It is somewhat less 'developed' in terms of social and political measures, as will be discussed below.

Gender equality and development in Kuwait: an overview

Kuwait is the oldest democracy of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. It became independent from the United Kingdom in 1961 and promulgated its constitution in 1962. However, Kuwaiti women only obtained the right to vote and stand for election in 2005. (9) The first four women to be elected to the National Assembly took office in 2009 (Worth, 2009). Women still have a very limited political role. …

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