Students protest over gender segregation in universities

Several student groups have been protesting at Kuwait University after the administration agreed to implement a government ban on mixed gender classes shortly before the start of the new academic semester.

The government decision to end mixed gender classes and to cancel registrations to attend mixed classes was announced on 13 September by Chair of the Parliamentary Values Enhancement Committee, MP Mohammed Hayef al-Mutair, after a meeting with Minister of Education and Higher Education Adel al-Manea and Kuwait University officials.

Hayef, who hails from the Salafi movement, said on X (formerly Twitter) that “preventing mixing comes from our oversight role to properly implement the law”. He added: “We are working to prevent mixing in studies unless there is an exceptional and specific need.”

Hayef also said: “The flimsy excuses [for allowing the mixing of genders] are invalidated by the overwhelming facts.”

He said the law prohibiting mixing “is already implemented in the largest faculty, which is education. There were 8,000 students in 600 non-mixed sections, and only 10 mixed-sections due to graduation conditions…

“As for the faculty of law, there are approximately 3,000 students with approximately 370 sections, of which 275 are mixed for the first time, even though they are in the same buildings as the faculty of education!”

Hayef indicated that the assistant dean at the Faculty of Law was responsible for the ‘mixed classes’ crisis. He had apparently already admitted to an incorrect implementation of the law and apologised for it in front of the Parliamentary Values Enhancement Committee.

Constitutional Court ruling

The ban is being opposed by several MPs who have indicated they will submit a draft law calling for the abolition of the 1996 law that enforced segregation of the sexes at Kuwait University.

They argue that the law has no legislative value in the face of a Constitutional Court ruling in 2015 which ruled that the law could be implemented through allocation of separate seating arrangements within the same classroom and there was hence no need for separate classes.

Some MPs have also criticised the Kuwait University administration for succumbing to political pressure at the cost of public interest given the fact that, they argue, the university has been correctly implementing the constitutional court ruling allowing mixed classes whenever necessary.

Some experts say the government has made several concessions to the bloc of conservative MPs in order to avoid a debilitating showdown between the legislative and executive powers, according to local news reports.

The Kuwaiti parliament, elected last June, is dominated by conservative Islamists, including Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood members, as well as tribal and Shia representatives.

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