Free «Beneath the Veil: Modern Muslim Women in Kuwait and the Impact of Western Ideology on their Identities and Sexuality» Essay Sample

Researching the subject of Kuwaiti women’s sexuality presents a number of challenges for the reason that scholarly resources are almost absent and the target country does not facilitate this kind of research, since it is highly delicate and sensitive with respect to the current condition of cultural and religious background of Kuwait. Since the matter under discussion relates to the notions of sexuality and feminism and these concepts are multi-faceted as well as abounding in definitions in the scholarly literature, it would be proper to define from the beginning what sexuality and feminism imply in this paper. In “Theorizing Sexuality” Jackson and Scott (2010) state that

 “sexuality does not denote a pre-given entity; it is a product of the social definition and ordering of erotic life, encompassing all desires, practices and identities deemed to be erotic. This does not mean that it is not 'real'; it is very much a part of our social landscape. Yet the concept of sexuality remains rather slippery and fluid because what is deemed erotic and hence sexual is by no means fixed” (p.2).

What is more, sexuality is not restricted to sexual intercourses or to sexual identities, yet includes outlooks and interactions, the manner in which we tend to be or do not tend to be determined as sexual by others, and the manner in which we so determine ourselves (Jackson and Scott , 2010). Sexuality and feminism are tightly connected, since feminism examines sexuality in the perspective of massive or national scope, trying to identify trends both favorable and negative trends with respect to women’s rights.



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With regard to feminism, Rosalind Delmar (1986) produced a now classic piece “What is Feminism”, and the following Delmar’s “baseline” definition of feminism will be used in the paper when referring to the concept of feminism.  

“It is certainly possible to construct a base-line definition of feminism and the feminist, which can be shared by feminists and non-feminists. Many would agree that at the very least a feminist is someone who holds that women suffer discrimination, because of their sex, that they have specific needs, which remain negated and unsatisfied, and that the satisfaction of these needs would require a radical change (some would say a revolution even) in the social, economic and political order.” (p.8)

In the context of Islam-dominated Kuwait, religion and sexuality are inextricably linked. Much analysis has been dedicated to comprehending religion's impact on sexual conduct ( Rostosky et al., 2004; Meier, 2003). A number of cross- national researchers have discovered that Muslims show more conventional perceptions with regards to sex than do the majority of other non-secular adherents (Finke & Adamczyk, 2008; Adamczyk & Pitt, 2009; Scheepers et al., 2002). Nearly all analysis on national religious situations depends almost entirely on either on International Social Survey Program or the World Values Survey (Finke & Adamczyk, 2008; Adamczyk & Pitt 2009; Scheepers et al., 2002). Scientists have discovered that people who accept that religion is essential and are religiously dynamic are more likely to postpone first sex (quite often right up until marriage) (Gilbert, 2008; Chamratrithirong et al., 2010; Holder et al., 2000; Rostosky et al., 2004; Meier, 2003; Zaleski & Schiaffino, 2000; Shirazi & Morowatisharifabad, 2009). Although, a great deal of focus has been granted to the connection involving generic estimates of religion as well as sexual conduct, a small number of quantitative researches have analyzed variations amongst the leading religions due to the fact that most analysis has been generated in countries that have a solitary principal faith. A number of cross-national attitudinal scientific reports discover that Muslims have a tendency to have more traditional, sex-associated behavior, when compared with Christians (Finke and Adamczyk, 2008). Furthermore, in the several researches that examine people of various beliefs inside the same country, Muslims seem less likely compared to Christians to engage in pre-marital sex (Addai, 2000; Agha, 2009). It speaks volumes of how the notion of pre-marital abstinence from sex is highly important within the context of dominant tradition in Kuwait.

Despite the fact that the sacred scriptures of leading religions condemn pre-marital as well as extra-marital sexual intercourses, community opinion analysis implies that Muslims put specific significance on virginity before matrimony (Finke & Adamczyk, 2008). Thus, for Muslims, religion-based involvement and casual social connections with various other Muslims are supposed to enhance subjection to spiritually motivated rules that dissuade pre-marital lovemaking, restricting young people's attention to sex prior to matrimony. As a consequence of social control processes, youngsters who are firmly attached to certain principles and also Muslim parents, associates, together with fellow spiritual adherents may be less likely to break their faith's dogmas, since it may endanger their connections. Ultimately, many Muslim local communities firmly dissuade casual connections between the women and men (Muslim Women's League, 1999). In case, adolescent Muslim girls and boys are unable to socialize confidentially with one another, chances to experience pre-marital sexual intercourse are significantly decreased. By means of methods of social control, social learning, and restricted possibilities, faith-based morals appear to restrict sexual conduct.

Muslim families could be more likely, compared to parents of some other spiritual beliefs, to marry their youngsters within a very early age range. Earlier matrimony (even prior to menarche) could be viewed as safeguard against pre-marital sexual intercourse (Makinwa-Adebusoye, 1992). In accordance with these suggestions, Agha (2009) analyzed records from the Demographic and Health Surveys of Nigeria and discovered that 8 % of Nigerian Christian women between 15 to 19 years of age got married in 2003 in contrast to 61 % of Nigerian Muslim women of the same age. Thus, for Muslim communities matrimonies are undertaken very early to be able to avoid pre-marital sex at the cost of pre-mature marriage relationships. Again, it points to how high the cost may be of only avoiding the unacceptable in the Muslim culture, of which Kuwait is an intrinsic part.

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Muslim spiritual culture may immediately affect or moderate the connection involving Islam and sex-related conduct, but it can likewise possess an implicit impact by means of regulations or guidelines that constrain female freedom. Quite a few nations limit females' possibilities to literally go outside of their residences and participate in community life. Females' freedom is constrained in four of the six countries where a minimum of 50 % of the populace is Muslim (Adamczyk, 2010).

Despite the fact that nowadays, the situation has become far better in the Middle East, males try to regulate the sexuality of females.

"In Muslim culture female sexuality is recognized as active, an acknowledgement that has threatening implications for the social order. The security of the social order is linked to that of a woman's virtue and consequently to the satisfaction of her needs. Social order, therefore, requires male control of women's bodies and sexuality...The collective mechanisms aimed at controlling women's bodies and sexuality continue to be one of the most powerful tools of patriarchal management of women's sexuality and a root cause of gender inequality in the region" (Ilkkaracan, 157, 160).

Religious beliefs are definitely not the sole instrument utilized to regulate the treatment of females in the Middle East. The methods of influence comprise spiritual, governmental, and social rules that suppress women's rights.

In historic perspective, males have had their individual social environment that has been public, and the social environment of females has been discreet. The male's public environment can be described as wide and extensive and the females' confidential world as home-based and limited. Males have been totally free to experience public life without worries. Females have conducted secretive home-based lives that males have tended to be superstitious about. Prior to the time when females were allowed to be educated, males viewed females as uninformed and secretive (Najmabadi, 2002). This kind of hermit lifestyle, although, enforced upon females, was used to justify the veiling of women even at those times when they had the necessity to go into public.

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If we talk about the social environment of females in Kuwait, it should be said that even though Kuwaiti females take pleasure in some level of freedom, while the veil is not obligatory, Kuwait is still led by a conventional type of Sharia rules and leads its people to taking their flexibility with consideration. Pre-marital sexual intercourse is taboo and females are wanted to continue to be virgins right up until marital relationship.

According to Global AIDS Response Progress Report 2012 in Kuwait,

“No study has ever been conducted on sex before the age of 15, as this is a highly sensitive topic, and formal research will be hard to conduct. However, anecdotal evidence from a focus group discussion held among male University students in Kuwait City in 2012 as part of the GARP reporting process, suggests that as much as 10-20% of young men has had their first sexual experience before the age of 15. This may have been with a female or male partner". (p.5)

In the light of the mentioned scarcity of scholarly resources on such sensitive topics, the 2010 Kuwait Al Watan Daily article on pre-marital sex and loss of virginity is a real treasure and worth focusing on in detail.  According to this article, there is a growing proof that females, who lose their virginity prior to marital life, are journeying to foreign countries to get a surgery to turn into a virgin once more. The reporter interviewed scholars, physicians, and females who have journeyed to foreign countries for this surgery to better comprehend this significantly debatable and delicate problem (Jabouri, 2010).

Dr. Hadi Ashkanan, Kuwait University Professor of Social Work, mentioned to the reporter that there was a substantial stigma connected with females giving up their virginity prior to marital relationship on account of culture and customs. He said that "girls are expected to remain virgins till their wedding night. The consequences of girls who lose their virginity, because of an illicit affair are severe; they might get killed and, in fact, some girls have been killed before for losing their virginity before marriage." (Jabouri, 2010)

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The scholar outlined the male concept of females who give up their virginity well before matrimony. He mentioned that "men in Islamic countries generally will not marry a girl who is not a virgin, because the male perception of girls who lose their virginity before their wedding night is that there are loose and men, in fact, prefer to marry a woman who is divorced" (Jabouri, 2010)

What is more, Dr. Ashkanani additionally stated that current specific generation appeared to be even more narrow-minded in relation to this concern. He stated that

"they are not ‘cool’ when it comes to a girl who is not a virgin. Our culture remains conservative in this matter. A girl in our culture simply cannot lose her virginity before her wedding night, because a man will always look down at her and can never trust her. The stigma surrounding the virginity issue in our culture is profound and I doubt it will ever change."(Jabouri, 2010)

The scholar mentioned that the mere case in which a male is not concerned with the issue of his potential spouse being not a non-virgin might be when she is a Westerner. He suggested that "men understand the Western culture and realize that in the Western culture it is alright for a girl to be dating, but this is clearly not the situation in our culture".( Jabouri, 2010)

Ashkanani stated that it was tolerable for a male to have sex-related affairs prior to marital relationship due to the fact, when he makes a decision to marry his personal affairs are regarded as his previous life. He likewise suggested the paradox of this condition that a male is not able to identify during his wedding night if his young woman was a virgin or not, since males typically did not go after relationships with virgins. A gynecologist, Dr. Reem Safi, likewise interviewed by the Al Watan reporter, supplied more information on this controversial topic from a health-related perspective and revealed that, similar to any gynecologist, she obtained inquiries from women who had lost their virginity and wanted to do a surgery to restore their virginity. Nonetheless, this surgery is illegal in Kuwait as well as the entire Middle East. Dr. Safi continued that it was an uncomplicated surgery, yet since it is unlawful, usually it is carried out in unsafe conditions.

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Consequently, the chance of microbial transmission and getting problems after operation is quite substantial. Furthermore, if the physician is not properly skilled, he or she could induce a number of side effects for the individual. Suha, a lady who decided to be operated to restore her virginity to be able to go after a comfortable marriage life, admitted to having an romance, when she was 17, with a person who gave a commitment to get married with her. Suha went through an operation regaining her virginity and mentioned that she recognized that this type of surgery was not completely moral, since it was associated with deception.

"The marriage proposal never materialized and my parents were pressuring me into another marriage; the operation was my only route to have a future, marital relationship. Of course, I did not do it in Kuwait, because it is illegal. I travelled abroad for the operation and this is my past, which I prefer to keep buried. I am not proud of what I have done, but in the end, we are all made of flesh and blood. What me and countless girls have done and continue to do is a sin, but illicit physical relationships are a sin for both men and women."(Jabouri, 2010)

The point of this article is that male behavior is justified. The Muslim culture and Kuwaiti culture in particular justify males for whatever they do. A man may do no matter what he wants, simply because he is a man, and is not going to be condemned for committing errors, yet a woman is distinctive case, being more like a flower, which can be picked once. Layla, a different woman residing in Kuwait, stated that she had no other choice, but to go out of the country to use the medical treatment. She said that Kuwait culture, tradition and society had ardent positions about virginity. Many females appear to deceive their partners by relying on the medical treatment after copying their partner’s conduct in developing questionable sex-related connections. Layla remained convinced that the surgery made everybody contented. When a woman turns to this kind of a treatment, she deceives her spouse and essentially escapes the punishment for the wrongdoing she perpetrated, yet, ultimately, everybody is usually pleased.

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Another anecdotal evidence comes from Yusif, an American Kuwaiti singer and a song-writer, who reports of his teenaged years in Kuwait:

"It's very, very taboo in Kuwaiti society to have premarital sex. It would be my dad's behind on the line if the girl's father found out. He would then want to attack my father - or something like that. It's a big deal. It's a very different culture. It's the girl's reputation and the girl's dad's reputation that gets tarnished, their family name is damaged. It's very loving and family-oriented society that actually values women in the ways we don't in America. Culturally, your extended family is everything in Arabic culture. We value that a lot more there than we do here in the West. People here stress individualism and life is more communal over there." (“Yusif Bio”, n.d.)

It puts a different perspective on pre-marital sex amongst the young women of Kuwait, making it a dangerous adventure, and eventually expensive to recover from, but still, young women of Kuwait do engage in pre-marital sex, as suggested by anecdotal evidence.  

Another confirming example of it comes from a 2005 news piece from Gulf Daily News, stating that:

"A Kuwaiti man killed his 14-year-old daughter by slitting her throat after he thought she was having pre-marital sex. A security source said Adnan Al Enezi, 38, had confessed to murdering his eldest daughter, Haifa, for "improper" behavior and was being questioned by the public prosecution.Forensic tests showed Haifa was a virgin, the source said, adding that the public prosecutor was investigating the case and the mental health of Enezi before filing charges. Enezi is an employee at the Islamic Affairs Ministry" (“Kuwaiti man slits daughter's throat”,

As we see, what Dr. Hadi Ashkanan from Kuwait University maintained appeared to be true in terms of possible lethal outcomes of westernized sexual behavior amongst Kuwaiti adolescents. It should be noted that before the Western concepts related to sexuality started gaining access to the Middle East, females remained in their own home and produced their personal social network in home-based settings. Observers were not permitted to view most of their way of living. In the past, two hundred years, with numerous areas of the Middle East growing to be modernized, women’s lifestyles have turned out to be more public nowadays. In "Women, Sexuality, and Social Change in the Middle East and the Maghreb " Ilkkaracan (2002) provides an illustration of social networking amongst young ladies in Islam-dominated Egypt:

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"The school of Hakimahs, which was established in the early nineteenth century and was the first modern state school for women in Egypt, aimed at replacing local midwifery practices with modern female professionals. While the local Egyptian midwives performed circumcisions on girls, thus implementing patriarchal control of women's sexuality, they also provided women with folk-based means to control their reproductive capacities, such as supplying them with information on fertility and providing quick and effective abortions" (Ilkkaracan, 761).

Nowadays, educated women of the Middle East have produced a position for themselves as a result of feminism. On the other hand, feminism has transformed into something distinctive from its initial goals to aid females to be openly and politically engaged in the Middle East.

"If at an earlier moment feminism had been disavowed as Western and foreign to Iranian womanhood, the markings of excess and alterity have now shifted onto particular kinds of feminism (lesbian feminism) and more generally same-sex desire and practices. It would be tragic if the opening of a publicly acceptable cultural and political space for feminism in Iran is officiated by a national consensus against queer subjectivities" (Najmabadi, 243).

The two sources above provide us with a perspective of how feminism in the Middle East will be developing in the near future. First of all, more political changes seem likely to take place, allowing women in the Middle East to have more privileges and rights in comparison with men, since the changes underway deal with the mentality of modern Middle East women. Changing, in how they see their world and their individual place in it, and being under a heavy influence of the globalization trends within the country, Kuwaiti women’s perception of the role of women is very likely to express itself in staunch positions towards the beneficial impact women can have on their own culture and country as a whole in all public spheres of life. On the other hand, a different form of feminism is evolving in the Middle East, concerned with same-sex practices. It could be suggested that the historical and cultural background of the role of women in the Middle East as sex objects and oppression of women’s rights for hundreds of years have provided sufficient conditions for women in the Middle East to lose the desire for males and develop one for females as less oppressive, more understanding and less dangerous option, since men in the Middle East may resort to murders, when a young lady’s hymen was technically broken prior to matrimony.            

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Sexuality as well as gender-related equal rights are  connected and seriously politicized problems essentially in the entire Middle East from the moment reforms in the direction of modernization or, one could say, Westernization were started . Despite the fact that a general opinion on the demand for modernization initiatives in the technological, administrative, as well as financial areas have been quite noticeable, reforms concentrating on gender interaction and the individual sphere have continued to be significantly debatable. Although, modernists have generally contended for gender equality and, to a certain extent, for intimate freedom, Islamic conservatives have intentionally tried to utilize their influence on matters associated with sexuality, striving to maintain their opinion of their corresponding spiritual and ethical beliefs on a national level (Ilkkaracan, 2008).

As the evidence discussed above suggests, young Kuwaiti people are highly influenced by the westernization of the Islam world to the extent that they grow to be ready to involve themselves quite secretly in a very dangerous activity breaking the religious law - pre-marital sex. It speaks volumes for the level of Western influence in Kuwait, and also the way how the issue of the loss of virginity can be worked around by means of a surgery in a different country or, possibly, continent. Thus, it can be suggested that in its form the young Kuwait generation is forced to adhere to the religious postulates in the matters of sexuality, but in essence it is focused on finding ways to go about the constraints and still appear conforming to the given reality of cultural and social standards.


It could be suggested that the current condition of Kuwait and the Middle East in general, is an arena where there is an enormous battle going on, involving millions of people, but not with actual firearms. The weapon used in the battle is the information provided by globalizing trends that have encompassed the whole world and the Middle East thereof to the extent that feminism has not only taken root in the area, but also have started to take its own form peculiar to the region with same-sex relationships becoming a significant issue. This battle is one of the clashing worldviews. The Western is taking momentum in the area owing to globalization, access to information, Internet, travel to different countries etc., and focusing on the gender-related equality of rights, and the Eastern patriarchal and historic perspective placing women a level (or levels lower) in their social and cultural standing in the society compared to men. Using the evidence, suggested in this work and related to Kuwait in particular, that is the growing evidence of that all the more young Kuwaiti ladies involve themselves in pre-marital sex, even under the age of 15. They not withstand the social and religious norms in the country and quite a possible lethal outcome of such pre-marital intercourse, it could be suggested that this trend will grow qualitatively and quantitatively. It is suggested that the statistics of pre-marital sex will increase and the discussion of the matter will grow to be more public, with eventually the loss of virginity becoming more of a choice, and not a severe violation of the local religious and social postulates. However, if Kuwait’s current condition in this aspect is reviewed, it is possible to see that the young female generation in Kuwait is still in the transitional period in terms of readiness to publicly go against the norms and be outspoken about it. The evidence that  a lot of young women use the opportunities provided by globalization, such as traveling to other countries for a surgery, restoring their hymen, speaks for that the young Kuwaiti women still choose to hold on to at least outward appearance of compliance to the local norms. The most important factor influencing this still present compliance could possibly be the occurrence of violation of human rights, when women are punished for the behavior, which men do not approve of. Once, the matter of human rights protection undergoes a progress, it is very likely that young Kuwaiti women will not have to travel to another country to restore their hymens. “Another country” will come to them in that globalization will not just open doors amongst countries and to information exchange, but the social and religious norms will experience a transformation, thus allowing the Kuwaiti women to make their own choices in their home country and not in a secretive manner.


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