The Impact of Societal Values on Kuwaiti Women and the Role of Education

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Alsuwailan, Zaha F. M. M.
thesis / dissertation description
Schools, as vital transmitters of societal values, help to shape students’ values and personalities. In Kuwait, female students are subjected to a continuous stream of messages from teachers and textbooks regarding the social roles they are expected to occupy. The school system, however, is a reflection of a larger Kuwaiti society that emphasizes the value of appropriate gender roles. This societal norm has its roots in Kuwait’s history and past traditions. In order to understand the effects of this value on Kuwaiti women, I have probed the past of Kuwait while tracing the ways in which the roles of Kuwaiti women have changed over time. In the era preceding the discovery of oil, women’s tasks were limited to and defined by the domestic sphere; after the discovery of oil, they were able to leave that isolated private world and emerge into the public sphere. However, they are still confined to restricted public positions and occupations and so they have formed organizations to help them assert their social and political rights. Their claims for expanded public participation have a polarized reaction from conservative and liberal positions: the former wishes to return women to their natural position in the household, whereas the latter supports their involvement in public occupations and responsibilities. Today, Kuwaiti women are voting and running for office, which is a new and unfamiliar expression of Kuwaiti social values. I believe I am uniquely positioned as a cultural studies student to address critical issues in Kuwaiti society at a time when women are becoming visible in its public and political life. Also, in emphasizing education as the channel in which to address them, I have undertaken this dissertation in the hope that it may help Kuwaiti women to review their status and to see the crucial role they can play in the future of their country.