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The Anti-Transgender Law in Kuwait Was Revoked Last February 16

Fifteen years after it was passed, the anti-transgender law in Kuwait was deemed unconstitutional by the Kuwaiti Constitutional Court on February 16, 2022. This is a step forward for the country in creating a safer and more inclusive environment for the transgender community.

Article 198 of the penal code, or the anti-transgender law in Kuwait, states that “imitating the appearance of a member of the opposite sex” is unlawful. As a result, committing such acts is punishable by law. Violators can be imprisoned for as long as one year or be charged with fines of up to 1,000 Kuwaiti dinars.

Stories of Victims of the Anti-Transgender Law in Kuwait

The law was implemented in 2007, and that year, police officers were quick to arrest any individual who was cross-dressing. This meant that women wearing clothes that were more commonly accepted for men, and vice versa, were put in jail. As if being put in jail for being who they were wasn’t unfair enough, their time in jail was anything but uneventful. They still continued to experience abuse and violence while they were being held. In the very first month that the anti-transgender law in Kuwait took effect, at least 14 people were imprisoned.

In the years that came after, many individuals belonging to the transgender community continued to be detained and abused under the anti-transgender law in Kuwait. In 2011, a citizen shared that “they hunt us down for fun. They don’t want me to dress like a woman so I don’t. I wear a dishdasha now. I cut my hair short. After all that I was still arrested, beaten, and raped for having a smooth, feminine face. What can I do about my face?” 

Human Rights Watch also created a report in 2012. They were able to record how the anti-transgender law in Kuwait has negatively affected transgender women. Many police officers seemed to have abused their authority over the detainees by subjecting them to degradation and humiliation, among other inhumane acts. 

In August of 2017, 76 men were deported, and 22 massage parlours were stopped from operating. These parlours have been suspected of being a hub where homosexual activity occurs.

The anti-transgender law was used against Maha al-Mutairi, one of the many individuals who have suffered in the past 15 years.
A video of Maha al-Mutairi on her way to the police station in 2020. She garnered local and international support in her fight against discrimination and abuse.

The most recent one that gained much attention was the case of Maha al-Mutairi. On October 3, 2021, she was found guilty of violating both article 70 of the telecommunications law and article 198 of the penal code. This states that she did not make proper use of telecommunications since she was acting like a female, even if she was really a male. 

Her posts on social media were used as evidence against her. In those video posts, she was wearing makeup, talking about her being transgender, sharing her experiences of abuse, and airing out her disagreement with the government of Kuwait. She said that “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?”

Because of this, she was punished with imprisonment for two years and charged with a fine of 1,000 Kuwaiti dinars.

When Maha al-Mutairi heard about the court ruling, she immediately tried to hide so that she would not end up in jail. It hasn’t been the first time that she has been imprisoned for violating the anti-transgender law in Kuwait. Her experiences in prison were very traumatic as she was subjected to abuse and harassment. Hiding would have been the safer option for her so that she wouldn’t have to undergo those harsh experiences again. 

However, on October 11 of the same year, the police were able to track her down. She was arrested at a hotel and was sent to Kuwait Central Prison. This is a prison specifically for men, but she was placed in a cell allocated for detainees that were transgender. Thankfully, she did not have to serve her two-year sentence. She was released from prison because of an appeal made in her case.

There Are No Boundaries in the Anti-Transgender Law in Kuwait

Many have opposed the anti-transgender law in Kuwait. It remains very vague, with no clear boundaries on what acts can be considered “imitation of the opposite sex.” Because of this, it can be freely interpreted to suit any given situation that law enforcers want it to be. 

As was obvious in the stories of those who suffered the consequences of the anti-transgender law in Kuwait, it was used by authorities to detain and abuse transgender individuals as they saw fit. 

Lynn Maalouf, the Deputy Director for Research in the Middle East and North Africa Regional Office of Amnesty International, said that “Article 198 was deeply discriminatory, overly vague and never should have been accepted into law in the first place.” 

Because of this, the Kuwaiti Constitutional Court has recently decided to overturn article 198 of the penal code. The law is too ambiguous and does not provide a clear framework of what it exactly means to imitate the opposite sex. It is also not consistent with article 30 of the constitution of Kuwait, which states that “personal liberty is guaranteed” for all of its citizens.

This decision was very much welcomed by activists. This is a monumental win after 15 years of living in fear under the anti-transgender law in Kuwait. 

However, it doesn’t end there. The Kuwaiti National Assembly must now do their part in repealing article 198. At the same time, those in prison for violating the anti-transgender law in Kuwait should be released with urgency. Victims who have reported experiences of abuse by authorities should be given justice by not stalling any of the investigations into these allegations. Those in positions of power who justified their wrongdoings with the use of a discriminatory law should also assume responsibility.

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