Standing up for Women in Kuwait

Mae Hajjaj
Education consultant, experienced researcher, information literacy specialist and the president of Soroptimist Kuwait.

Women’s education in Kuwait started in 1937 and with it came real challenges. Culture and tradition were obstacles. The main question was why? Why do women need to go to school? Why do they need to leave the house and walk out on their families? What was to become of a society where women became independent? The fears were there but so was the potential. It took over 60 years for Kuwaiti women to stand strong and take the lead regionally to reach high level positions beyond winning suffrage and political rights which they gained in May 2005. They grew into educated, independent and confident human beings and became an integral force to help build a nation and develop themselves and their society.

In 2015, Soroptimist Kuwait added another dimension to women’s societal roles and civil society voices. Its mission is to be a global voice of women by women and for women. Members of Soroptimist Kuwait work together to ensure that collective efforts are greater than sum of individual ones. These professional women sought to seek societal growth, justice, and equality. They are pillars of social stability and cultural development.

Soroptimist Kuwait

Soroptimist Kuwait is a local NGO with an international affiliation with Soroptimist International Europe (SIE). It was chartered by SIE on October 23, 2015 and recognized by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor in August 2016. Collectively, the local and international branches are referred to as “Soroptimist Kuwait.” The name Soroptimist was coined from the Latin soror meaning sister, and optima meaning best. And so, Soroptimist is interpreted as ‘the best for women’. Soroptimist International was founded in the United States in 1921 and is now composed of over 80,000 members in 132 countries and territories around the world. It retains prominent status with international organizations that are concerned with women issues. It is active in all the major UN centers around the world and holds General Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council, (ECOSOC) and official relations with several agencies and a network of permanent SI representatives. It is committed to the renewed focus of the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDG’s).

On a local level, Soroptimist is committed to a world where women and girls work together to achieve their individual and collective potential, realize aspirations, and have an equal voice in creating strong, and peaceful communities. Soroptimist Kuwait’s mission is to inspire action towards building professional and strategic channels of leadership development and women led services. Its projects’ goals aim to enable, educate, and empower women through raising awareness, advocating, and taking action. Soroptimist Kuwait has implemented over 30 projects that align with its mission. For example, we started a corporate governance project in collaboration with International Financial Corporation and the World Bank with the goal to accelerate the pace of female board appointments and increase the number of women on boards because we believe that when women are economically empowered and have control over their own finances and well-being, they have a personal sense of autonomy, self-confidence, and the power to control their private and public lives. We also aligned with the international Lean In program which helps foster leadership, advancement, and inclusion for women in the workplace.

In addition, we also worked on a variety of women’s health empowerment projects. In 2020, and in collaboration with other civil societies, Soroptimist Kuwait succeeded in passing a law allowing women to sign off on medical procedures for themselves and their family members, as this was formerly restricted to male family members. This project was initiated through the United Nation’s Orange the World campaign, which focuses on ending discrimination against women. Our health-related projects included a social prescription plan, titled ANA. This project empowers women by connecting them to community support to improve their health and mental well-being. We also worked on a national campaign to raise awareness of thalassemia, a blood disorder commonly found in Kuwait and the region. It involved a blood drive, the distribution of pumps to thalassemia patients, visits to children in hospitals and a youth awareness program. This project gained international exposure from Soroptimist International Europe, when we were given Best Practices Award in 2020.

Our greatest accomplishment, however, has been our projects to eliminate violence against women and girls. This included aiding victims of violence, providing counseling services, lobbying for improved prevention programs and policies, and raising awareness of this problem. We introduced the first rehabilitation program in Kuwait for survivors of domestic violence which entailed mental, social, medical, and nutritional programs. Our Orange Kuwait program in 2022, titled “I Stand With Her’, which focused on men supporting women in their endeavors, gained us our second Best Practices Award from Soroptimist International Europe.

Soroptimist Kuwait also works to enable women and children to pursue lifelong learning as a means to eradicate and prevent violence against women. We have implemented many projects which further education or provide vocational training to women and girls. We also believe women play critical roles in relation to their natural environment and so we channel our experiences in developing policies and taking action towards a more sustainable environment for us and generations to come.

Soroptimist Kuwait’s motto is to stand up for women and our projects reflect that mission through our advocacy, our programs, and our dedication.