Last Updated: Sun Oct 17, 2010 00:16 am (KSA) 21:16 pm (GMT)

Kuwait female cops irk officials

Women cops are deployed in shopping malls
Women cops are deployed in shopping malls

The increasing role of women in Kuwait’s police force stirred controversy in parliament with Salafi MPs deeming it un-Islamic and liberal intellectuals defending women’s right to access all kinds of professions.

The debate about whether women should be trained as police officers is not new to Kuwait. However, the issue resurfaced with the recent harassments to which policewomen were subjected in shopping malls.

Conservative MPs attributed the harassments to the fact that women cops do not abide by the Islamic dress code since they in many cases wear tight pants with shirts tucked in.

MP Mohamed al-Hayef called upon Interior Minister Sheikh Jaber al-Khaled to employ female cops only in administrative jobs on the grounds that they are not fit for firearms training, patrolling, or combat.

Hayef, and other conservative MPs like Waleed al-Tabtabaie and Falah al-Sawagh accused the interior minister of living in an ivory tower and not realizing that deploying female cops in the capital is bound to cause problems.

The harassments, they argue, were because the women did not abide by the Islamic dress code and because the idea of a female policewoman violates the country’s traditions.

The women, they added, were also not able to defend themselves and had to call for help from their male counterparts.

Hayef, Tabtabaie, and Sawagh even hinted at submitting a parliamentary questioning against the interior minister in the next session and accusing him of going back on earlier pledges he made regarding policewomen being ordered to wear decent clothes.

Liberals respond

 We cannot overlook such incidents because in some cases women cops will be made fun of by passersby while in others they could be physically assaulted or called names 
Lawyer Mubarak al-Shamri

Liberal intellectuals and rights activists lashed out at the stance of conservatives and accused them of discriminating against women and opposing their integration in various sectors of society.

Dr. Badr al-Sheebani, professor of psychology at Kuwait University, said that the problem lies in the fact that people in Kuwait, as well as in other Gulf countries, are not used to seeing women in uniform.

“For this, I blame the ministries of interior and information,” he told Al Arabiya. “They should have prepared the public for the role women would assume in the police force. Had they done this, people would not have resented the presence of women cops.”

Sheebani added that the latest harassment incidents were also due to lack of awareness and insisted that they are individual occurrences that should not be taken as the norm.

“The press blew the matter out of proportion which made it seem like all female cops are getting harassed,” he added.

Writer Dina al-Tarrah said harassment is not confined to policewomen.

“Women journalists and lawyers are also harassed,” she told Al Arabiya. “We all remember how female doctors also suffered in the beginning until society accepted them.”

Tarrah called upon policewomen not to be affected by those harassments and to do their job with confidence and efficiency to prove they are capable of facing all social challenges.

“Women have so far proven their competence as police officers in several Arab countries, amongst which is Saudi Arabia where female cops work in the extremely crowded Mecca mosque.”

Kuwaiti women cops work as bodyguards

Despite his support of increasing the role of women in the police, lawyer Mubarak al-Shamri, head of the Human Rights Committee at the Lawyers Union, argued that the minister’s decision to deploy female cops in public places was quite hasty.

“Women could have started doing office work until people were prepared to see them patrolling streets or shopping malls. It is lack of this kind of awareness amongst the people that triggered harassment incidents,” he told Al Arabiya.

Although Shamri agrees with Tarrah regarding the incidents being individual cases, he stresses the importance of not ignoring them because they demonstrate the way Kuwaitis think of having women work as police officers.

“We cannot overlook such incidents because in some cases women cops will be made fun of by passersby while in others they could be physically assaulted or called names.”

Journalist Isteqbal al-Azmi disagreed that the minister’s decision was not thoroughly studied before implementation.

“The decision was discussed and approved in the parliament,” she told Al Arabiya. “The only problem was not raising awareness before implementation.”

The harassment incidents, she added, not only raised concerns about the validity of the decision, but spread panic amongst women cops and their families, which could affect the number of women wanting to join the police in the future.

Human rights activist Hend bint al-Sheikh called those who harassed female cops “sick” and called upon women not to be discouraged because of those incidents.

“We should not give weight to those people,” she told Al Arabiya. “They have to understand that a society is made up of both men and women and to stop accusing women of being the weaker party.”

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid).

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