Working Women

What is working in Kuwait like?

In Arab countries, men have traditionally been the providers, women the homemakers. This concept is slowly changing, however, as the attitudes of the outside world permeate Arab society.

This process is hastened by the influx of foreign women to Kuwait. For some time, Arab women have worked in teaching and nursing, but they’re increasingly also found in other fields, especially banking, finance and the service sector. The majority of expatriate female workers are employed in the service sector as doctors, lawyers, hotel administrators, in advertising, public relations, nursing, education and as stewardesses for the many national airlines.

More local women are entering the work force in Kuwait and some employers view them as harder-working and more reliable than the average local male worker (and invariably cheaper to employ). Women rising to positions of power and influence tend to come from middle and upper echelon families. Indeed, for a woman to rise to a position of influence at work she needs the support of her family, especially the male members.

Most expatriate workers – whether western or eastern – are male. Their wives often have a restriction in their passport which prohibits them from working. Should the wives wish to work, they must obtain their own sponsorship and work visa, but employers tend to be biased against giving work visas to women. Women are often offered work (illegally) and, while this isn’t a major crime, it can result in the company being fined and the woman losing her job.

Women are generally safe in the workplace, with little sexual harassment because of the severe punishments for this. The influx of female ‘tourists’ (i.e. prostitutes) from eastern Europe in recent times, however, has reduced the level of respect that foreign females hitherto enjoyed. Women should also be careful not to be too friendly towards Arab men in the workplace, because this can be misunderstood as flirtatiousness.

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Gulf States & Saudi Arabia. Click here to get a copy now.

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