The “Campaign to Abolish Article 153” is a national campaign led by a group of activists in Kuwait, concerned with ending all forms of violence against women in the Arabian Gulf and the region. The campaign aims to raise awareness about the abolition of Article 153 of the Kuwaiti Penal Code that justifies the murder of mothers, daughters, sisters and wives on the basis of honour. The penal code discriminated between men and women in terms of the penalty imposed on the committer of murder related to the crime of adultery, and commuted the offence from felony to misdemeanour for men, but not for women under similar circumstances which constitutes clear and explicit discrimination between men and women. In light of the absence of laws that criminalise violence against women as well as the lack of administrative and executive measures to protect women subjected to violence within the family, the campaign focuses on cooperation with local, Arab, regional and international civil society organisations and the dissemination of educational materials raising awareness on violence and its causes and how to deal with it and advocate against it through holding seminars and workshops with volunteers and specialists and spreading the culture of anti-violence in poetry evenings and free film and documentary evenings in public facilities and public and private universities.
The campaign focuses on the need to abolish article 153 of the Penal Code because it threatens the family and women’s lives and puts them in a position of weakness and gives men the right to kill them on suspicion in return for a weak punishment. The campaign members hold meetings with various committees in the National Assembly on a continuous basis, and were received by Speaker of the National Assembly Marzouq al Ghanim in December 2015. MP Saleh Ashour, Chairman of the Committee on Women and Family Affairs in the Kuwaiti National Assembly asked a question on the constitutionality of Article 153 to the Kuwaiti Minister of Justice in the previous session in January 2016.
The campaign’s advocacy included the establishment of a national strategy on effective participation in the protection of society from all forms of domestic violence and the removal of legislative and social obstacles to women’s equitable share of protection. The campaign carried out the first academic survey on this matter in the Arabian Gulf in the summer of 2016 in cooperation with Dr. Justin Gengler of the SESRI Institute at the University of Qatar on attitudes towards such legislation by the Kuwaiti society and found that the vast majority do not know that there is a law permitting honour crimes in the State of Kuwait and that 63% of the people reject the existence of this shameful and arbitrary law.
Domestic violence has targeted women and laws that encourage it contributed greatly to laying obstacles in the way of women’s struggle towards the emancipation from the influence of a male-dominated society, and towards the attainment of their legitimate rights. Article 153 is contrary to article two (33) in the Arab Charter on human rights, which states: (the State guarantees family and community protection and the protection of individuals within it and prohibit various forms of violence and abuse among its members, especially against women and children).
Article 153 of the Penal Code prohibits an inherent right of women, which is considered one of the most important human rights, namely, the right to life. The article states that “Anyone who surprises his wife in a state of adultery, or surprises his daughter or mother or his sister in the presence of a man and kills her immediately or kills him or kills them together is punishable by imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years and a fine of not more than 3000 rupees or one of these two punishments.” This violates the Kuwaiti Constitution in Articles 9-29-34 which calls for protecting the family as the basis of society and promoting the values of equality between men and women in law and in public duties, in addition to ensuring a fair trial where the accused is innocent until proven guilty in a legal trial in which the country provides the necessary guarantees to exercise the right of defense. Article 153 also violates international conventions ratified by our country, notably the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
For her part, Ms. Sundus Hussein, a member of the campaign, said that “Article 153 contradicts logic. How can it be reasonable for a legislator to allow murder on the basis of suspicion or mistrust, and how can it be reasonable to make the male murderer adversary, judge and perpetrator of the sentence simultaneously,without allowing the accused female to defend herself, indicating that this encourages criminality and murder”. She added: “We in the campaign have been working continuously on the abolition of this article, which was taken from Article 324 of the old French Penal Code (Napoleonic Law), and we discussed article 153 with Muslim scholars and clerics who assured us that this article in this way does not agree with the provisions Islamic law (Sharia)”.
The campaign focused on a peaceful and non-confrontational approach to society, as it chose to promote its ideas through cultural change. It organises an annual art exhibition on Kuwaiti women’s day 16/5, promoting regional artists and portraying women’s suffering through photography, painting and sculpture. The campaign’s commitment to ending violence since its founding has earned it the honour of winning the European Union’s Human Rights Chaillot Prize in 2016.
In the last weeks of the current session of the National Assembly Kuwait, campaign members, after the continuous work and the formation of pressure forces for three years, succeeded in persuading five MPs (Mr. Omar Tabtabai, Abdul Wahab Al Babtain, Yousuf Al Fadalah, Ahmed Nabil Al Fadl and MP Safaa Al Hashim to sign a bill that would give urgent status to the discussion of abolishing Article 153 in the parliament when it reconvenes again in October 2017.