Patriarchal ideologies have meddled with almost every aspect of women's lives, including their access to healthcare. The issue grabbed public attention in Kuwait this week after a journalist shared a problematic policy that was spotted at a governmental medical center.
Writer, journalist, and activist Arwa Al-Wagayan took to Twitter to share a sign allegedly found at Al-Saqr Medical Center in Adailiya area. According to the sign, women are not allowed to undergo gynecologic examinations unless they are married and they present marriage contracts to prove it.
In her tweet, Al-Wagayan wrote:
"This banner is found in Al-Saqr center in Adailiya. What's the point of providing women with public healthcare if it is conditional upon presenting a marriage contract? This is a hospital and not one of those hotels that enforce male guardianship on women. Is it illegal for unmarried women to fully access healthcare?"
The journalist included a photo of the sign in question, and it reads:
"Patients requiring laboratory testing of samples for women's (gynecological) diseases are kindly required to bring their marriage contracts."
After her tweet stirred controversy online, Al-Wagayan shared some background on the incident in an article published on Raseef22. In her article, she wrote that an unmarried woman is pressured to think twice before visiting a gynecologist, particularly at public medical centers, where "she is treated as a 'whore' if she suffers from a disease in her genital organs."
Justifying her claims, Al-Wagayan recounted an incident a female friend of hers had encountered at a governmental medical center. Her unmarried friend had sought professional help after contracting a sexually-transmitted disease, but was treated with disrespect and was refused laboratory testing - other than urine analysis and gynecologic sonography - due to her marital status.
The journalist posed some crucial questions:
"How can the Ministry of Health neglect its primary role and assume the role of policing and monitoring women's bodies? This led me to another question, if a man suffered a sexually-transmitted disease because of frequent sexual intercourse or any other reason, will he be asked to present a marriage contract before receiving treatment? Of course not."
Social media outrage
The incident caused quite the stir online, with many Twitter users condemning the discriminatory policy and emphasizing that healthcare should be available unconditionally:
The patriarchy strikes again
This should go without saying but...
"A doctor is obligated to provide medical care, regardless of laws, religion or customs."
"Where are we heading to as a country?"
"What is this idiocy? Where are we heading to as a country? I swear we're almost back to the Stone Age! Doctors have no business questioning whether she is married or not; treatment is a right for all. Doctors have nothing to do with religion; they should focus on medicine and leave religion for specialists or the patients themselves."
"What about we apply the constitution?"
"Article 15 of the constitution: 'The State shall care for public health through measures of precaution and cure of diseases and epidemics.'
The constitution did not distinguish between married and unmarried women when it comes to treatment, so what about we apply the constitution?"
Some users tried to find an explanation for the policy
"I think this is only required for pregnancy tests, so the hospital or the doctor does not bear any legal responsibility because doctors are sometimes held accountable if an unmarried woman turns out to be pregnant."
Yet, their so-called justifications are just as sexist as the policy itself
"Perhaps the reason behind the policy is society's sanctification of the concept of virginity. Doctors are thus afraid a woman might later accuse them of causing their loss of virginity (by breaking her hymen) during the examination, even if she wasn't a virgin in the first place."
People agree this is not an isolated incident
"Unfortunately, there are many unmarried women who suffer from gynecological disorders yet do not seek professional help due to such banners or the regressive views surrounding a woman facing such disorders! For example, a young woman might need contraceptive pills to treat some conditions, yet she fears the stigma and taboos associated with them!"