Nationality and naturalization laws are often ambiguous in Kuwait, specifically for the children of Kuwaiti mothers and foreign or bidun (stateless) fathers. The lack of clarity and poor implementation of such laws have contributed to the limitation of rights and benefits for these children, who are often subjected to injustice. They do not have the right to own or register property in Kuwait – even if the property is owned by their mother, it cannot be inherited or passed down to them. Additionally, they are not recognized as Kuwaiti citizens unless their mother and father officially get divorced, and if they do so, can only obtain Kuwaiti nationality 15 years afterward. Conversely, the children of Kuwaiti fathers and non-Kuwaiti mothers are immediately granted Kuwaiti nationality and full rights even if they were born outside Kuwait.
To raise awareness of this issue affecting the children of tens of thousands of Kuwaiti women, a few individuals started the Gray Area campaign and released the video #بس_أمي_كويتية (But My Mom is Kuwaiti) portraying the hardships experienced by such children. To learn about the campaign, AGSIW spoke to the founders of Gray Area: Aya Salih, an entrepreneur with a legal background; Kawther Al Bader, a content creator with a journalism background; Sarah Al Qahtani, a graphic designer; and Munira, a photographer.
AGSIW: What motivated you to initiate this campaign?
Aya Salih: I thought of this campaign because a lot of people are facing this issue and no voice represents them. Most of the existing campaigns target Kuwaiti women who are married to non-Kuwaiti men, and not their children. I thought we should change the focus and shift it to the children of these women. I’m personally half Kuwaiti from my mother’s side and it’s been a struggle up until this point; personally, I thought I would feel more affected by this campaign if I targeted the children instead of the mothers. When I first started planning this campaign, I saw people’s reactions … it was like they were waiting for this to happen and for someone to finally speak up about this issue.
Kawther: I recently joined the campaign and I’m serving as the content creator. I’m personally drawn to the cause because of its impact on women’s rights, especially in Kuwait. There are some rights that have not been afforded to women, especially Kuwaiti women who want to marry non-Kuwaiti men and have children.
AGSIW: What do you think are the hardest struggles for the children of Kuwaiti mothers and foreign or stateless fathers?
Aya: Growing up, there’s always the issue of not knowing who you are – you’re not socially accepted by Kuwaitis as being “Kuwaiti” and yet, you might not really identify with the other half of your nationality because Kuwait is all you know. It gets worse after the age of 21, when children of Kuwaiti mothers are stripped of most of the important rights they are afforded, such as residency and access to education. After turning 21, children of Kuwaiti mothers are usually shocked because everything changes. I think that’s the hardest thing to battle for us.
AGSIW: Do these children have the same access to educational opportunities?
Aya: Up until university level. We [children of Kuwaiti mothers and foreign/stateless fathers] have the right to a local scholarship, even from Kuwait University, however we do not receive scholarships to go study abroad. Children of Kuwaiti mothers can apply for a system called “Offset” in which you can get a scholarship abroad only if there is an empty slot that has not been taken by a full Kuwaiti student; this rarely happens. But you can be given a master’s degree scholarship to Kuwait University and you get access to health care, too. The hardest thing, though, is after graduating from university, job opportunities will be scarce because children of Kuwaiti mothers are treated like expats, for whom the job market is not as welcoming as it is for Kuwaitis; there is a national push to hire more Kuwaitis versus expatriates so opportunities are not as available as they were. Plus, many people working in the health care sector aren’t aware that children of Kuwaiti mothers should be afforded the same rights as Kuwaiti citizens, which can cause issues.
AGSIW: Have you considered assembling coalitions with other local organizations to support your cause and to approach the Parliament seeking legislative remedies?
Aya: Yes, eventually. At the moment, we have not pinpointed who we want to work with and who we want to make the face of our campaign, if anyone. It would be a difficult task to do because it’s a sensitive topic.
AGSIW: Apart from raising awareness about the issue, what do you think would be a solution?
Aya: Getting full rights. We do not want to focus on getting nationality yet; we want our rights first then the rest can follow. Our rights are most important now. Then through baby steps we can bring up the nationality case.
Sarah: Also, acceptance from society as a whole for the children of Kuwaiti mothers since they are usually looked down upon.
Kawther: We talk about raising awareness; most of it just has to do with spreading a general message of acceptance and also empowering people in their situations to be able to speak more openly because they should be able to. Why is there this fear and stigma of not being able to say, “I’m half Kuwaiti from my mom’s side”? We realize that there are so many factors at stake when it comes to enacting legal change. There’s the matter of whether the spouse would receive citizenship, and even what citizenship would entail. There are already so many levels of citizenship in Kuwait.
AGSIW: What is the most challenging case regarding the children of Kuwaiti mothers and foreign or stateless fathers?
Kawther: I think the worst-case scenario would be a Kuwaiti woman marrying a stateless man. If a Kuwaiti woman marries a foreign man, her children would carry that nationality versus no nationality at all. The children of bidun fathers would not only face social identity issues but also lack rights to health care, education, and the list goes on. It’s a nightmare; they’re doomed. I’m not as familiar with the legal aspect of it but the emotional and identity instabilities alone are as important to mention.
Aya: Kuwait is only one of seven countries in the world where the number of stateless people is increasing because the state is not granting rights, nationalities, and citizenship to the children of national mothers and foreign fathers. In Kuwait, there are multiple families in which the mother and father have gotten divorced so that by law the children should obtain Kuwaiti nationality, but they are not getting it; they are waiting for 15 years. The parents are divorced for the sake of their children and they are still waiting for the nationality.
Kawther: Also, be careful when reading the law. It says one thing, but in practice it is not being implemented. We are doing testimonials as part of the project and we just spoke to a girl whose father is Algerian and mom is Kuwaiti. Her parents got divorced when she was 20. Technically, she should have gotten her nationality back then. She is now in her 30s and is still waiting for it. She also married a Kuwaiti and she still has not received it.
AGSIW: How has the public reacted toward your campaign?
Sarah: We were upset for two days; we were shocked by the antagonistic reaction.
Aya: I was prepared. Anything that has to do with positive change, people react negatively to it. The shock was that it wasn’t only men that were against our campaign, but there were also a lot of women too that were against us; they were against women passing the nationality down.
Sarah: “No one told them to go marry a foreigner” some women commented. But at the end of the day we did get a lot of support, too.
AGSIW: What are the next steps for Gray Area?
Aya: We are planning on hosting an event; it should take place by the end of this year.
Sarah: We are still in the stage of just raising awareness. I think baby steps is the way to go.
Responses to Gray Area Instagram Q&A
Many children of Kuwaiti mothers raised in Kuwait often grow up under the impression that they are Kuwaiti by nationality. After all, many of them are afforded basic legal rights up until they turn 21 years of age and, oftentimes, are raised in a Kuwaiti cultural household, attend school with other Kuwaiti children, and spend their free time with their local cousins and extended family. On a recent interactive Instagram Q&A, Gray Area asked its audience the following question: “How did you find out you were half Kuwaiti and how old were you?” Some of the responses were the following:
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