/ 11 October 2004

The great Kuwait sex debate

Kuwait’s Appeals Court on Monday overturned a landmark verdict by a lower court granting a Kuwaiti who underwent sex-change surgery the right to register as a female, a lawyer said.

”The judge overturned the initial verdict and threw out the case … We will challenge this verdict to the Court of Cassation [the highest court in the Gulf Arab state],” Adel al-Yahya said.

The lower court, in the first verdict of its kind in conservative Kuwait, agreed in April to a request by Ahmad, a Kuwaiti male, and ordered the government to change officially his sex to female and his name to Amal.

The verdict was based on a number of medical reports and a forensic examination carried out on the complainant, who stressed that the transsexual surgery was decided for ”biological reasons”.

Judge Yunis al-Kundari said the reasons for his ruling will only be available within one week.

”I will continue to fight this battle until I get my rights,” 26-year-old Amal said by phone, breaking into tears.

Amal, speaking in a clear female voice, said she underwent the sex-change surgery ”outside of Kuwait as it was not possible to do it here”.

”I started feeling that I was not a boy, but a girl from my childhood … But because we live in a conservative society I could do nothing about it,” said Amal, whose name means hope in Arabic.

Amal later underwent several medical tests in Kuwait, and ”they all proved that I was a female, not a male”.

The sex-change operation was carried out in Thailand about three years ago and after returning to Kuwait, Amal was subjected to forensic examination, which ”showed I was a complete female”.

After the court verdict in April, the government filed an appeal supported by a group of Islamist lawyers and Amal’s father, who told the court the verdict brought ”shame to his family”.

”We respect our judiciary … but Amal is an exceptional case because there is a clear biological need for the sex change. We believe our case is fair and is backed by religious and legal interpretations of the law,” Yahya said.

However, there is no law in Kuwait to govern sex-change cases and judges base their verdicts on their personal convictions.

Islamist lawyers and political activists have strongly opposed the sex-change operation and the original verdict, saying that it will open the door for more such operations.

Islamists believe that changing sex contravenes religious teachings. — Sapa-AFP