Kuwaiti women protest against ban on ‘indecent’ yoga retreat

Dozens demonstrate in front of parliament after Ministry of Interior halted event

Women activists rally in support of their right to exercise activities, outside the National Assembly in Kuwait City on February 7. AFP

Dozens of women in Kuwait protested in front of parliament on Monday night after the Interior Ministry banned a women's yoga retreat in a move that has sparked controversy in the country.

Kuwaiti yoga instructor and event organiser Eman Al Husseinan announced the ban on Thursday. She later said in a video she was still waiting for an official permit to hold the retreat.

"This is not about sports, although that is important," activist and university professor Ibtihal Al Khatib, who attended the demonstration in Kuwait City's Erada Square, told AFP.

The protest came after a tweet by conservative MP Hamdan Al Azmi warning that allowing a woman's yoga retreat would be "dangerous".

"We stress the Interior Minister [must] move quickly, stop these internal practices and hold those who were granted licenses to account immediately," he said.

"This is a dangerous matter."

Female protesters raised banners saying: "No to the government and parliament's trading in women's issues" and "Kuwait is a civil state and the rule is constitutional, and no to the rule of fatwas".

They shouted slogans saying they rejected the “guardianship of women”.

“Members of parliament are supposed to be the ones who defend the rights of all people, regardless of their gender," women’s rights activist Ibtihal Al Ahmad said.

"A woman’s right is not given by someone’s mood, not by personal preferences but by the constitution itself. Any changes or amendments to an article in the constitution should be focused on granting more rights, not taking them away.”

Women activists rally in support of their right to exercise, outside the National Assembly in Kuwait City on February 7. AFP

Kuwaiti lawyer Areej Hamadah, who was at the protest site on Monday night, said conservative MPs may face challenges in the next election after the current parliament’s spate of campaigns seen by women's groups as targeting women’s rights.

“Today I was at the women's gathering from the third district and who voted for the [male MPs], but what I heard today and from very influential women figures, I think it is difficult for them to prepare for the upcoming elections after they failed the women who are shocked by their positions,” Ms Hamadah said.

Earlier last month, Mr Al Azmi led a group of 10 MPs in challenging Kuwait's Defence Minister Sheikh Hamad Jaber Al Ali Al Sabah with a vote of no confidence in parliament, which eventually failed, over his policies, including one to allow Kuwaiti women to enlist in the military.

Speaking in front of parliament, Sheikh Hamad said his decision “did not bring anything new,” as women joining the army “will be limited to working in the medical, administrative and support services units, which are the specialities that women currently work in the Ministry of Defence”.

Although several Kuwaiti women have previously held government posts and parliament seats, women failed to win any seats in the last elections.

Updated: February 08, 2022, 11:28 AM
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