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Mixed diwaniya elicits criticisms in Kuwait

Kuwaitis criticise move to open a diwaniya (open house) for both men and women

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Manama: A move by four Kuwaiti women to open a diwaniya (open house) for men and women in Al Jahra has sparked negative reaction among Kuwaitis.

In announcing the opening of the diwaniya on Sunday, the four women said that it would be used to discuss women's issues and rights in Al Jahra, an area located 30 kilometres north west of Kuwait City.

"This diwaniya is the first of its type in Al Jahra and will be open to all those with interest in women's rights. Men and women from Al Jahra and other areas are welcome to attend the monthly open house," Qatsha Al Shimmari, who calls herself "Om Sultan", told Al Watan newspaper.

However, the announcement was promptly attacked by conservative residents of the area who saw it as a "blatant violation of the area's traditions."

"This is a crazy idea. You cannot have men and women in a diwaniya, particularly in Al Jahra," said "Frustrated", a blogger who was commenting on the news. "As member of the Shimmari tribe, I want to distance ourselves from this circus."

A woman under the name of "Kuwaitia" said that no woman would want to enter a diwaniya where she will have to mix with men.

"I cannot imagine a woman sitting next to a man who is nonchalantly smoking a cigarette in the diwaniya. This is a crazy idea that should be dismissed," she wrote.

For blogger Um Jarh, women cannot talk about their issues in front of men whom they do not know.

"I like the idea of a diwaniya in Al Jahra, but it should be only for women so that they talk about their conditions and other issues. There is so much to talk about, but a mixed diwaniya is not part of our traditions and will not help us move forward," she wrote.

Marwa said that the gathering should be under a different name. "You may call it a women's forum for instance, but you cannot refer to it as diwaniya. It sounds as if we women want to imitate men instead of coming up with new ideas," she wrote.

Other comments, written mainly by men, blasted the diwaniya initiative as a prelude to an election campaign.

"This is nothing but an attempt to gain popularity and score points to get eventually elected in the next parliamentary elections," Ibn Al Jahra wrote. "Unfortunately, this is happening at the expense of our morals and deep-rooted values." Al Jahra has a population of around 30,000 people.

Women in Kuwait won their political rights in 2005 following a vigorous campaign by the government and amid stiff resistance by conservative MPs and tribe leaders. In 2009, four women were elected to the parliament in an outstanding breakthrough.

What is a diwaniya?

Diwaniya, known as majlis in other Gulf countries, usually takes place in the evening in a special room that is usually separate from the rest of the house.

It has traditionally been a men's realm with those present sitting around on soft benches or cushions, conversing casually, smoking, nibbling light food and drinking tea or coffee.

Relatives and friends come and go throughout the evening while the host offers hospitality to all his guests and entertains them.

In recent years, Bahraini women activists launched the idea of a majlis for women and gradually men were allowed alongside women to attend lectures. However, the idea of mixed majlises has yet to be implemented.