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Women

Kuwait City Corniche / Photo HH

Kuwaiti households increasingly resemble the typical ‘modern’ nuclear family of one husband, one spouse, and two or three children. The number of children in the Kuwaiti nuclear family has decreased rapidly since independence. In the early 1970s women had an average of 6.9 children. For the period 2000-2005 this figure had, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), fallen to 2.3, the lowest of all Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (although this figure includes non-nationals, and other sources put this figure at 2.8 or 2.9). 9 percent of Kuwaiti women under the age of 50 share their husband with other legal wives. This resembles polygamy practices in Bahrain and Qatar (8 percent) but not those of much more tribally oriented Saudi Arabia (19 percent) and the UAE (14.5 percent). The average Kuwaiti women marries at a later age than women in other GCC countries, at a median age of 20 (the GCC average is 17.5). She is also less likely to remarry than her GCC sisters: being divorced or widowed at a mean age of 27, only 39 percent of divorced or widowed Kuwaiti females find a new husband. For much poorer and more traditional Oman this figure is 32 years and 70 percent respectively; analogous figures for Kuwaiti males are not available.

Family planning

In the Arab Gulf States, family planning is not encouraged by the state or religious authorities. The state, through financial incentives, actively encourages married couples to have many children. In practice, access to contraception is available in the free government health facilities, but only about 50 percent of Kuwaiti couples use contraceptives. Sexual abstinence is a much more important factor in birth planning. Abortion is legal to save the mother’s life and, in the first four months of pregnancy, to preserve the woman’s physical or mental health and in instances of foetal impairment. In most instances, abortions are legal only if performed in a public hospital, after review by a committee. An unknown number of Gulf women resort to traditional practices – such as abdominal massages, herbal, and spicy drinks – and illegal abortions in ending unwanted pregnancies.

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