News / Middle East

Proposed Kuwait 'Gender Tests' Under Fire

Nepalese migrant workers arrive at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu on September 27, 2013. If the the GCC approves a Kuwaiti proposal, migrant workers seeking employment in Gulf countries will undergo mandatory gender tests.
Nepalese migrant workers arrive at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu on September 27, 2013. If the the GCC approves a Kuwaiti proposal, migrant workers seeking employment in Gulf countries will undergo mandatory gender tests.
TEXT SIZE - +
Cecily Hilleary
— A proposal by Kuwait’s Ministry of Health to require “medical tests” designed to bar any migrant workers deemed to be homosexual or transgender from entering Kuwait or any other country that belongs to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is generating intense criticism.

Amnesty International has described the measure as outrageous and called on it to be rejected “out of hand.”  Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, said the proposal is “an affront to the fundamental right to privacy and underscores the continuing persecution of individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

In Kuwait, sexual relations between same-sex consulting adults are illegal, and those convicted under the law can be sent to prison for up to 10 years. 

The proposal has alarmed the international gay community, which worries that “gay tests” might be performed on all visitors to Gulf states – including those attending the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.  Some groups also worry Kuwait will institute so-called “tests of shame” -- anal and vaginal examinations that have been used by police in Lebanon and elsewhere to determine sexual orientation or virginity.  The GCC is made up of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE. 

Graeme ReidGraeme Reid
x
Graeme Reid
Graeme Reid
Graeme Reid, Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Program at Human Rights Watch in New York, said while his group is alarmed at the proposal HRW has so far been unable to verify how extensively it will be implemented. 

“We have been trying to verify these reports directly with members of Kuwait’s parliament and the people who have apparently made these statements and we have had no success,” he said. 

“It is likely that it [the proposed law] is aimed at transgender workers, which would be bad enough in and of itself,” Reid said.  “But I think that it has been interpreted to mean that random visitors coming through the airport would be tested for homosexuality, and I don’t think that is what is being said.”

Although Kuwait’s health department officially recognizes Gender Identity Disorder, parliament passed a law in 2007 banning “imitating the opposite sex.”  Rights activists say this paved the way for the physical, sexual and emotional abuse of transgender individuals by both police and public. 

The 2012 HRW report “They Hunt Us Down for Fun” details how people in Kuwait can be arrested for anything from “wearing a feminine watch” to having too soft a voice or complexion. Detainees may be subjected to bodily inspection by doctors. 

“It shows a real anxiety,” said Reid, “about gender nonconformity in Kuwait.”
Reid said that up until a few years ago, transgender individuals had a somewhat hostile “but joking” relationship with police in Kuwait. “It wasn’t violent and abusive in the way that it became after the passage of the law.”

Who will be tested?

Kuwaiti lawmakers who back the proposal said they are seeking to identify and ban persons of the “third sex,” a non-medical catch phrase used regionally to describe transgender or intersex individuals, cross-dressers, eunuchs, gays and lesbians.

Hossein AlizadehHossein Alizadeh
x
Hossein Alizadeh
Hossein Alizadeh
“The problem is that these guys are on a witch hunt without knowing what, exactly, they are chasing,” said Hossein Alizadeh, the Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

“There are huge misconceptions about gender and sexuality in most of these countries, and this misinformation informs the policies of these countries.  Using the term ‘third gender’ and then also using the term ‘homosexual’ means that they really don’t know what they are talking about.  And if you don’t know what you are looking for, what kind of test are you going to use?” Alizadeh said.

He said while the proposal is misguided it’s not likely to affect casual visitors.  “Kuwaiti officials have made it very clear that the proposed law would not target tourists, especially anyone from the global North.” 

According to Alizadeh, the policy targets only those applying for work from specific countries of origin, as listed on the GCC Health Council website – which he said does not make the testing any less discriminatory.

“You are applying this kind of law to citizens to citizens of certain countries, to a very specific class of laborers who are in need of financial resources and are more vulnerable,” Alizadeh said. 

The testing proposal has the support of the director of the GCC Health Ministers Council, Tawfiq Khojah, who told Arab News that if the proposal is approved, testing will become mandatory at 289 health centers across the GCC, and that testing is necessary to help “preserve Islamic principles.”

Anger over “interference” in Kuwait

Kuwaiti lawmakers have slammed what they call interference by Amnesty International.  M.P. Abdurrahman Al-Jeeran said the matter is “sovereign” and urged the rights group to “pay attention to the noble goals it was established for,” and stop defending what he described as “deviants.” Former MP Mohammad Al Hayef accused the rights group of encouraging “behavior that is against human nature.”

According to Amnesty International the proposal will be debated at a meeting of the GCC Central Committee for Expatriate Labor Forces in Oman on November 11.  The committee sets migration policies in the region and if the proposal passes gender testing will become mandatory in all six GCC member states.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid