Kuwait has passed its first law designed to specifically target domestic violence.
The legislation, drafted by the Women and Family Committee, will “set the minimum standard and legal protection procedures for victims of domestic violence, in a way that maintains the family unity without threatening its stability in the society”, state news agency Kuna reported.
The committee, which includes Kuwait's only elected female representative, Safa Al Hashem, presented the bill in parliament on Wednesday. Thirty-eight MPs voted for the bill, one MP abstained and another voted against.
Volunteer group Eithar, which has been lobbying for a specific law against domestic violence for four years, said the new law will provide legal cover for survivors.
“This bill will protect survivors of abuse, activate the shelters and criminalise domestic violence,” the group said on Twitter.
Kuwaiti women’s rights activist Alanoud Alsharekh said the law was an important step towards empowering women and achieving social justice.
"This is a huge step forward in ensuring the dignity and protection for all members of the family," Ms Alsharekh told The National. "This law is the culmination of years of lobbying by civil society groups spearheaded by Eithar and Abolish 153 and is an encouraging indicator not just for Kuwait but for the greater Arab world."
She said the law provided a platform for pressure groups outside the traditional power structure to bring about important change.
Now the bill has passed its second reading, it will be referred to the government for implementation, a process which should take around six months.
The law defines domestic violence as “physical, psychological, sexual or financial mistreatment, whether in words or actions”, or the threat of such actions, by a family member against one or more other members. It brings in provisions for legal, medical and rehabilitation services for survivors of domestic violence and It also paves the way for setting up shelters where victims can take refuge and seek help.
There may yet be more legislation and community action around the topic, as the bill calls for the formation of a national committee for protection against domestic violence, with members from government and civil society.
The law will allow the Minister of Social Affairs to form special teams to investigate and follow up domestic violence cases and aims to encourage victims of domestic violence to report assaults.
US Ambassador to Kuwait, Alina Romanowski, expressed her delight at the new legislation on Twitter.
"Congratulations to the National Assembly, civil society activists, and all of Kuwait for today’s passage of a domestic violence law," she said. "What an impressive and important achievement!"
Her sentiments were echoed by Australian Ambassador Jonathan Gilbert.
"Criminalising these act[s] and giving victims a voice and safe-haven are important steps in stamping out abuse. An important day for domestic violence victims," he said on Twitter.