To be a woman in Kuwait

Photo by Brendon Thompson on Unsplash

When I take a look at the statistics of my old blog, I can see that a lot of visitors are coming from Google, asking how is it to be a woman in Kuwait. Do women have to wear the hijab? Can they drive?


Back to June 2015. I signed my contract and I start talking about my future life in Kuwait. I will be soon a French woman living alone in Kuwait. And everybody said the same thing : be careful, you will have to wear the hijab. Be careful, women in Kuwait can’t drive. Be careful, women in Kuwait can’t go out without a man next to them. It was only be careful, be careful, be careful.

I only hear that. I have to be careful. People only worry about me when I talk about it. I can only see fear about what can happen to me only because I am a woman. Nobody sounds happy for me. I am a woman and I decided to leave Paris to go to Kuwait. Prejudices about life in a Muslim country are strong. According to french people, who never went to Kuwait, my life is going to be hell only because I am a woman.

Yeah, I tried to find some information about being a woman in Kuwait. I wrote it in Google and I didn’t find anything. Maybe because I only look for it in French… Maybe there are more answers in English, I don’t know.

… against the reality.

When I arrived in Kuwait, the first thing I saw was women driving really beautiful cars. Obviously, in France, beautiful cars are considered as cars for men… In Kuwait, women drive Maserati, Jaguar, Porsches and other big four wheels. The first thing I saw was women driving, alone or with someone else. Sometimes they are with friends, sometimes with family or sometimes, you can see a man seating on the passenger seat.

I saw women in malls with a man carrying all the shopping bags or pushing the stroller. I saw women alone or with friends. All those women are only women living their life, as women live their life in France.

Kuwaitis women work, they are allowed to vote and they can run in some elections.

Photo by Marc Kleen on Unsplash
I am pretty sure the car is driven by a woman – Photo by Marc Kleen on Unsplash

What to wear ?

In France, in Paris, I used to wear short skirts or dresses and every time I took the train, I was nervous about it. I am used to whistle in the streets, as if I was a dog or a cat. I think I am now able to kill people only with a look. Insults don’t hurt me anymore. And I learned all of it during my life as a woman in France.

Street harassment is now a big topic in France. You can easily see this video of a girl being slapped by a man in the middle of the street. Only because she told him to shut his mouth when this unknown man told her she was hot. As a woman in France, we have to hear and accept insults and opinions about our bodies from people we don’t know. And if we answer, we can be slapped.

I packed my suitcase with long sleeves and long skirts. I though I will have to live with all those small aggressions. When I arrived in Kuwait, someone explained me that as long as I wear the correct clothes, nobody will annoy me. I guess the correct clothes are clothes that don’t make you sexy.

Days after days, I realized that being a woman in Kuwait is having a peaceful life. It’s true : people look at me more when I am wearing a skirt than when I am wearing pants. If I get dressed properly for an event, looks will be really different than when I go to the bakala for a Coke wearing leggings and a long t-shirt.

Three years I am living alone in Kuwait and I can easily count the times I’ve been annoyed in the streets. Twice while I was running, apparently leggings and running shoes are a turn on. And once in the street, but when I said no, they just… left. Without any insults, or bad words!

Life as a small little thing

Since I am in Kuwait, my life as a woman is easier and more enjoyable than my life in France. Wait, I am not saying that there is no sexism. There is, women and men are not equal at all. But it’s a sexism that I prefer live with… I rather be over protected and helped by men than being insulted.

So ok, at the beginning I mostly said no to men who wanted to help me with my suitcases at the airport. But after all, why not ? To be a woman in Kuwait is to accept that you are a small little thing who always need help. Now, I say OK every time someone wants to help me. You don’t want me to wait in the line? Ok, I will pass before everybody else. Someone wants to carry my luggage? Ok, he can do it, if it can make him happier…

As I am a single young woman, people here think I am always in need of help. When I was in France, I hated this way of thinking. But here, it’s ok, finally I can live with it.

A different respect

However, I know that my experience is not the same as every woman in Kuwait. I am a white single lady. I have no idea about how live Black woman or Indian woman or woman from the Philippines. Maybe it’s really different for Kuwaiti women, I don’t know. And I really don’t know how is it for foreigners married to a Kuwaiti man.

But I know that when I am with a man, other men don’t talk to me. They talk to the man I am with. I remember once, I was in a taxi with two friends and the taxi driver never talk to me. Even if I asked something, he answered at my friends. It was as if I didn’t exist. To be a woman in Kuwait, it means that sometimes, you have to stay on the back.

In restaurants, the check is always given to the man I am with. With time, I realized it was a kind of respect. It was really hard for me to understand, I felt I was less than a man and I found it really disrespectful. I wanted to stop every man and tell them that, hey, me too I can have a conversation !

But with time, I realized it was a kind of respect for the man I was with, but also for me. Men never put themselves in a bad position. I’ve never been a victim of contacts I didn’t want to have.

To be a woman in Kuwait or in France ?

To be a woman in Kuwait is really different than being a woman in France. It’s hard to choose the good words because being a woman in Kuwait is not only advantages. For example, I know that most of the men in my surroundings are not here to be only my friends.

But my life is quieter. I feel safe every day. Sometimes, I go for a run at 4AM without being scared. I’ve been lucky to avoid some troubles only because I am a woman.

However, I know that as a woman, I always have to be beautiful, funny and nice. If I want to get married with a Kuwaiti, I will need to be a good cook and there is a chance that he prefers to know that I am home than at work.

In France, we are trying to fight some clichés about the difference between a man and a woman. Here, in Kuwait, they explain some things only because of your gender. For example, I am really sensitive and in Kuwait, it’s normal because I am a woman. Every woman is sensitive. Someone told me once that I am still single because I am too adventurous for a woman.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Photo par Annie Spratt sur Unsplash

At the end, like everywhere, it’s not perfect. Life is all about balance. And I made my choice. I don’t know until when but … for now, I rather be a woman in Kuwait than a woman in France !

Something to say ? :)