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KUWAIT: New labor law grants women the right -- and flexibility -- to work late

June 5, 2010 |  7:07 am

The choice to clock late-night hours just like men is now a right for Kuwaiti women. 

In a revision to the labor law this week, the government of Kuwait allowed women to work night shifts at hotels, restaurants, pharmacies, press offices, banks and various other businesses.

AwadiThe amendment overrides a labor law that barred Kuwaiti women from working between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Minister of Social Affairs and Labor, Dr. Mohammed Afasi, says Kuwaiti women can work until midnight in such professions as law, medicine, journalism, tourism and hospitality.

However, they still will be barred from jobs described as physically dangerous or taxing, such as those in the manufacturing, construction and petrochemical fields.

Afasi has also decreed other caveats to the labor law, including a ban on any private sector employee, man or woman, from working between 12 and 4 p.m. from June until August due to the perils of the summer sun and heat. 

These revisions come with a recent tide of other gender-conscious legal reforms that put Kuwaiti women at the forefront of gender rights in the Persian Gulf, according to a March 2010 report by Freedom House. 

Generally, they enjoy more comprehensive social and economic rights than their counterparts.

Women in Kuwait have made strides in the last few years, in part thanks to vocal nonprofit organizations and other women's groups, as they begin to dismantle barriers to employment, education and political participation.

TabtabaeiToday, women account for two thirds of all Kuwaiti university graduates. They make up more than a third of the labor force, the largest proportion among the states of the Arabian Peninsula. Kuwaiti women hold high positions in the private and public sectors as well.

Still the forces of conservatism remain strong. Conservative members of parliament wanted to create a monetary allowance for housewives, in order to encourage them to stay at home with their children rather than leave the house to work, a proposal that was rejected. 

Islamist parliamentarian Dr. Waleed Tabtabaei is also pushing for the early retirement of female employees and adamantly opposes the Minister of Education, Nouriya Al-Sabeeh, not wearing a hijab in work meetings. 

A lively debate is underway about the role of women in the workplace. 

"This demand made to grant unemployed Kuwaiti women an allowance is dangerous to the Kuwaiti society and future generations," One writer for the Kuwait Times complained. "In fact, I think it is part of an actual hidden agenda. When the woman is confined to the four walls at home ... there is no real need to attend schools and universities or even seek a job, if all you want is money."

-- Becky Lee Katz in Beirut

Photos, from top: MP Aseel Awadhi, a women's rights advocate, celebrating her electoral victory with her supporters in Kuwait City. Credit: Yasser Zayyat / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images. In Parliament, MP Waleed Tabtabaei looks on at Minister of Education Nouriya Al-Sabeeh, who was heckled during her swearing in by male parliamentarians. Credit: Associated Press.