A student who asked to be identified only by his initials, S.A., said he was one of those who refused to attend the research unit’s lectures. He said he thought the unit was trying to promote societal acceptance of “a new gender, other than the binary sexes.”
“I reject that for religious and moral reasons,” S.A. said. “It makes me reluctant to accept their other teachings. Their importing of disciplines that promote Western ideas that do not conform to our societal and cultural context is unacceptable. It raises doubts about the goals of the unit and those in charge of it.”
Shaikha Al-Hashem, a scholar from Kuwait whose research areas include women’s issues, told Al-Fanar Media that the war on gender studies was not confined to the Gulf.
“It is there in many European countries, represented by a religious populist discourse that promotes misconceptions, and claims that gender is against biological sex.”
Al-Hashem, who is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the European Graduate School, attributes this rejection to the research unit’s work “to educate women about their social, economic and political rights, and raising issues that the authorities do not want to talk about because they pose a threat.”
She said the very establishment of a research unit was “a manifestation of women’s empowerment, in light of the discrimination against them. It also offers studies, research, and curricula based on critical thinking, unlike curricula that rely on indoctrination and memorisation.”
Academic and Legal Support
The university has supported the research unit’s teaching staff and said Kuwait’s Constitution guaranteed their academic freedom. The university administration quoted Article 36 of the constitution, which states: “Freedom of opinion and scientific research is guaranteed. Subject to the conditions and stipulations specified by law, every person shall have the right to express his opinion by speaking or writing or otherwise.”
Alfares said she believes that comments or insults about professors’ research often occur outside the university, but that Kuwait University itself remained “a free hub to present ideas or research, and no one has the right to interfere with researchers’ academic work.”
Ibrahim Al-Hamoud, former head of the Association of Faculty Members at Kuwait University, told Al-Fanar Media: “We are aware of the necessity and importance of having such studies in our societies. The commitment of the university and the Ministry of Higher Education to defend such research and scholars working on them is a constitutional and legal obligation.”
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Al-Hamoud, who is also a professor of law at Kuwait University, said that “the only way to confront those who falsely claim that the gender studies unit is ‘westernising’ the community is for the unit’s members to continue their research while being supported legally and morally.”
Al-Hashem also suggested establishing an alliance of women’s organisations and associations in Kuwait to correct misconceptions about women and gender studies through informative seminars or posting articles in the media.