The Emergence of Feminist Digital Activism in the Middle East
: An Exploratory Case Study from Kuwait

  • Eiman H Husain

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

The use and penetration of social media as a primary tool for activism set Kuwait apart and ahead of other countries in the Gulf region. Despite the contextualisation of the rise of digital activism by government efforts to repress digital activists, feminist activist efforts have shown remarkable resilience, following a global digital activism trend and demonstrating much promise. This research, conducted using a multi-online qualitative methodology with an online ethnography observation, reveals a surprising diversity in the digital feminist activism landscape in Kuwait. It is far more complex and nuanced than one might expect, with various feminist digital activism practices being used in different ways, online and offline, for many feminist purposes. While this is a meaningful development, practical change remains minimal in a culture as complex as Kuwait.
The domination of one type of feminist voice and perspective has raised questions about classism, elitism and the absence of marginalised feminist perspectives. While it is true that some Kuwaiti feminists have leveraged social media to their advantage, successfully aggregating both individual and collective efforts, this research reveals a class divide in mobilising feminist discussion and access to power relations. Moreover, there is a complex variation of multi-feminist perspectives about gender inequality, patriarchy, or cultural barriers, which can create different experiences and legitimise some feminist voices over others.
This disparity means that upper-class women are more likely to benefit from feminist advancements. While there are reasons to be hopeful about social change, the functioning of feminist digital activism in Kuwait presents significant hurdles. One such challenge is the formation of feminist campaigns that stifle other women's voices. The Abolish 153 Campaign, a notable example, has effectively mobilised and raised awareness. However, the social norms and cultural challenges persist, with its narratives, strategies, and communication channels being dominated by privileged voices. This prompts a broader discussion on its effectiveness and underscores the urgent need for an intersectional approach in contemporary feminist activism analysis. In this context, it is crucial to stress the ongoing need for collective efforts and solidarity among diverse feminist movements. By working together, these movements can bridge the gap of social feminist divides and foster a more equitable society.
Date of Award26 Jun 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorSimon Hobbs (Supervisor), Graham Spencer (Supervisor) & Simone Gumtau (Supervisor)

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