Global Roundup: Kuwait Overturns Anti-Trans Law, Colombia Becomes Latest Latin American Country to Partially Decriminalize Abortion, Palestinian Women Share Pictures of Thobes To Celebrate Culture
Curated by FG Intern Jana Kortam
Maha Al Mutairi, a Kuwaiti transgender woman who was jailed under the now overturned law. Photo courtesy of change.org via Middle East Eye
Kuwait’s Constitutional Court has overturned a law that criminalizes “imitation of the opposite sex,” and which authorities had used to prosecute transgender people.
The law, known as Article 198, had given Kuwaiti authorities free rein to stop, arrest and prosecute people whose appearance did not match the gender marked on their official identification card. Kuwaiti lawyer Ali al-Aryan, who filed a lawsuit to overturn Article 198 of the penal code two years ago said it had violated personal freedoms, which are enshrined in the constitution.
Amnesty International welcomed the court's decision, saying it marked "a major breakthrough" for transgender rights in the region, but called on Kuwait to ensure that the law was fully repealed and to end arbitrary arrests of trans people.
In 2019, Maha Al Mutairi, a trans woman influencer helped to highlight the injustice of Article 198 via videos she posted on social media in which she accused police officers of arbitrarily detaining her for seven months that year under the law.
All this because I’m trans? God made me like this…I wish that I felt like a man deep inside. I’d pay all the money in the world to feel like a normal man. Why would you do this to me? - Maha Al Mutairi
She was held in a men’s prison and she said police officers raped and beat her. Her social media videos helped garner support in Kuwait for overturning the law and international condemnation of Article 198.
In October 2021, Maha Al Mutairi was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine under Article 198 as well as a telecommunication law. Human Rights Watch said she was released on appeal.
Article 198 was introduced in 2007 and criminalized “imitation of the opposite sex” forbidding Kuwaiti transgender people from freely expressing their gender identity without fear of prosecution. The law stipulated a punishment of a maximum of one year in prison and a fine. Not only were transgender people, especially trans women, sentenced to up to one year in prison, but they also faced sexual harassment and physical assault from the police.
In December 2021, the Constitutional Court agreed to hold a hearing to overturn the law. The court overturned Article 198 on February 16, 2022, as it was found to contradict Article 30, which protects personal freedom. It was seen as a great advance towards LGBTQ rights in a predominantly homophobic climate.
Lawyer Shaikha Salmeen commented on the surprising and unconventional court decision,
It was unconstitutional and no one can doubt that...Their (conservatives’) fight back is going to be vicious for sure. - Shaikha Salmeen, lawyer and activist who worked on Maha Al Mutairi’s case and the campaign against Article 198
The rare victory means Kuwait joins some countries in the region where transgender rights are making some headway. Egypt and Iran, for example, have fatwas approving gender-affirming surgeries. Laws and religious decrees are one things, and lived reality another: in practice, even trans people who have undergone surgery have enormous difficulty achieving legal recognition of their identities.
Abortion rights activists in Bogota, Colombia, celebrate the decision of Colombia's Constitutional Court to legalize abortion up to 24 weeks. via CNN
Colombia has become the latest Latin American country to partially decriminalize abortion, marking a victory for the country’s feminist movement which for two decades has fought the influence of colonialism and the Catholic Church as it campaigned to decriminalize the procedure.
The country’s Constitutional Court ruled in favor of legalizing abortion up until 24 weeks of a pregnancy,
We knew this was not an easy fight, but at some point it had to happen,..Of course, while we were hoping for full decriminalization, and we will keep fighting for it, this is an important step forward for us. - Mariana Ardila, an attorney for Women's Link Worldwide, who signed the petition to decriminalize abortion
Before decriminalization, women taking authority over their own bodies could be imprisoned for up to 4.5 years. Even though conviction was uncommon, it still created an unhealthy environment filled with fear and distrust, activists say.
Even women entitled to abortions still faced struggles and barriers when trying to access safe treatment. Alejandra Gutierrez, a 23-year-old cancer patient who was legally entitled to abortion, said that her case had to go through a panel discussion between a gynecologist, a hematologist, and a psychiatrist before her request was approved. She also mentioned the lack of information and clarity provided to her with regards to the risks of terminating a pregnancy or carrying a fetus to full term while going through chemotherapy. Only after three weeks and numerous interviews was she allowed to end the pregnancy.
I felt so vulnerable, so small, and I still feel I never really got to the bottom of it. My fear was that it started to grow, inside my belly, and then it was too late, I was scared to death. - Alejandra Gutierrez
Negative attitudes, bureaucratic delays, and medical staff who refuse to perform the procedure under a “conscientious objection” clause also made it harder to obtain abortions.
Abortion after 24 weeks in Colombia is still illegal except under three circumstances: malformations of the fetus that make it nonviable, rape or incest, or when the woman’s health or life is at risk.
The partial decriminalization in Colombia and two landmark rulings in Argentina and Mexico signal a growing shift in thinking about abortion in a region where the Catholic Church remains a major influence.
This is also about changing mentality…We are not trying to make people change their opinion about abortion -- that is a question that is important only for women who are facing an unwanted pregnancy…This is about people understanding that regardless of their opinion, abortion is a right. - " Dr. Laura Gil, a gynecologist, who signed one of the petitions to Colombia's Constitutional Court to change the law.
Palestinians trace their embroidery practices, as well as their thobes, back to ancient Canaanite and Phoenician forebears (Screengrab/Instagram) via Middle East Eye
Hundreds of Palestinian women have taken to social media platforms with pictures of their intricately embroidered Palestinian thobes (dresses) as part of a new online campaign by Falastini TV, a Palestine-based channel dedicated to arts and culture, to highlight and protect the tradition.
Using the hashtags #MyHistoicalThobe, #PalestinianEmbroidery, and #OurHeritageIsNotForStealing in both English and Arabic, the women have flaunted their thobes to highlight and protect their culture as a form of activism and resistance to colonialism and apartheid.
The traditional Palestinian thobe is seen as an integral part of Palestinian culture and identity. The design of the thobe uses a tatreez (embroidery) style to add detail and has been around for over 3000 old. Each style is unique to a region and is passed down from generation to generation.
Many Palestinians consider the thobe as a heritage, as a weapon in which they defend their history and identity, and that’s why stealing it is like stealing their whole lives. - Sumaya Souqi, senior marketing communication specialist at Falastini TV
This movement is mainly woman-led as an act of resistance against the appropriation of the thobe, sparked by Israeli Minister of Culture Miri Regev wearing a dress portraying the city of Jerusalem, Al Aqsa mosque, and the dome of the rock on a red carpet event. Also, last year Miss Universe contestants wore the traditional Palestinian thobe in a “visit Israel” campaign. Social media users criticized the ignorance of the contestants and their utter disregard for the erasure of indigenous existence as well as the promotion of occupational forces through cultural appropriation.
The Palestinian women’s campaign was also used as a form of solidarity with the occupied east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where a number of Palestinian families are facing expulsion from their homes.
Among those who participated in the campaign is Palestinian activist Muna el-Kurd, who has risen as a prominent spokesperson through documenting assaults against her family’s home in Sheikh Jarrah, as well as attacks on other families in the neighbourhood, on social media.
Last year, Unesco added the Palestinian tatreez style to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The relationship and bond formed between women during the act of embroidery is vital to Palestinian culture and is emphasized: “Embroidery is a social and intergenerational practice, as women gather in each other’s homes to practice embroidery and sewing, often with their daughters," the Unesco statement said.
A similar campaign—#TweetYourThobe— took place in 2019, inspired by Palestinian American Congresswoman, Rashida Tlaib, who wore a traditional thobe that her mother passed down to her while being sworn into Congress.
Jana Kortam (she/they) is a sociology and feminist and gender studies student at the University of Ottawa. They are experienced at advocating against gender-based inequality especially in the SWANA community. They are actively engaging with intersectional feminist ideologies in order to radically smash the patriarchal supremacist society.
She believes that in order to be able to achieve justice, we must offer a microphone for minority voices unheard rather than narrate their stories for them.