Domestic violence as a form of Gender-based violence, impacting domestic workers in Kuwait

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a new term but has existed for as long as inequalities in power have been present. UNHCR defines it as, ‘’harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender. It is rooted in gender inequality, the abuse of power and harmful norms”. 

Women and girls are most likely to be victims of GBV. The statistics are not accurate, as GBV, specifically domestic violence, is both under-reported to officials, and under-recorded by officials. There is also the pressure of culture and society, in which victim-blaming discourages people from speaking up about their experiences. 

It is violence that spans multiple levels. On a personal level, it could be violence perpetrated by a specific person, usually a person close to the victim, such as a family member or friend. GBV happens at a structural level, when governments, hospitals, and even education systems, choose to turn a blind eye to the disproportionate violence impacting the lives of specific groups. 

What are the forms of GBV?

There is an umbrella of violations under GBV. From domestic violence, intimate partner violence, child marriage, forced prostitution, sexual harassment, and femicide.

There are many forms of GBV, the most widely mentioned is physical and sexual violence. However, as those are extremely important to stay aware of, we must also remember that verbal, emotional, psychological, and economical violence are also present. These types of violence at times happen simultaneously, and not in ‘’one-time’’ incidents. GBV includes: 

  • Deprivation: of financial, educational, bodily needs such as food or sleep 
  • Threats: threatening violence is just as serious as inflicting violence; it is important to recognize patterns of abusive behavior even if it is not ‘obviously’ apparent 
  • Manipulation: through gaslighting (distorting reality), love-bombing (excessive display of affection), isolation (from friends & family), controlling and guilt-tripping behavior (limiting freedoms)
  • Coercion: at times, coercion is not obvious or ‘black and white’. The perpetrator can trick the victim into believing that their actions are done with their own will. For example, if a person is pressured into sex (through repetitive encounters or pleading) that is still coercion, and that is classified as non-consensual rape.  

How does intersectionality play a role in GBV, specifically Domestic Violence?

Intersectionality is a concept coined by Kimberlee Crenshaw in 1989. The concept is now widely used to understand how different aspects of our identity ‘intersect’, impacting our life experiences. These aspects of our identity can relate to gender, race, class, religion, physical ability, and sexual orientation. It can be tempting to say that GBV impacts everyone equally. But the truth is, marginalized groups at the intersections of race, class, and gender are at a higher risk of being victims.

Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to GBV

Domestic workers can face abuse from multiple stakeholders. Because of their intersectional identity, they are vulnerable and exposed to abuse. From the recruitment agency, to the travel companions, the possibility of exploitation and abuse can be present at every stage of their migration journey before reaching the employers home.

In the employer’s home, Domestic workers are a particularly vulnerable group when it comes to domestic violence. Domestic workers may experience various forms of abuse and exploitation in the home of the employers, including verbal, physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. Because of their unique position as domestic workers, they face additional barriers to seeking help and support. For example, they may fear losing their job or being deported if they speak out about abuse. They may also have limited access to information and resources due to language barriers or lack of familiarity with the legal system. If they do speak out on this abuse, they could face long legal processing times and discriminatory treatment at the hands of law enforcement. 

It’s important to recognize the specific challenges that domestic workers face when it comes to domestic violence, and to ensure that they have access to the same resources and protections as other individuals who are experiencing abuse in Kuwait.

Data gathering and steps towards protection of domestic workers as victims of GBV

At Sandigan Kuwait, we know that violence does not end with the act itself. It persists through rejecting the victim’s reality of lived abuse, disbelieving the victim, not holding the abuser accountable, as well as refusing to change laws and policies that allow GBV to occur. Intersectionality also plays a role in who is believed to be a victim, and who is charged as the perpetrator. 

We are therefore launching a survey with the collaboration of SKDWA, EDWA, and WADWA, into gender-based violence experienced by domestic workers in Kuwait. We anticipate that this study will shed light on under-reported and under-recorded incidents of GBV, and specifically domestic violence. The survey will be available in multiple languages and will be updated on this article and on our Facebook page. 

Check out our article on the DO’s and DON’Ts of being an ally to victims of GBV.


UNHCR. (n.d.). Gender-based Violence [article]. UNHCR.

Ott, M. (2021, June 4). Series: What Does That Mean? Gender-based Violence. Women for Women.

Crenshaw, K. (2016, October). The urgency of Intersectionality . TEDWomen.

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