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I landed in Kuwait just a few days into the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is a special time of year in the Middle East, where Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset. It is a time of reflection, giving thanks, charity and spending time with family and close friends.

As soon as I arrived in Kuwait I got to see first-hand the charity and friendliness of Kuwaitis. My first meeting, originally scheduled for an hour, lasted about 4 hours and ended with a personal tour of the city – including an unsuccessful trip to the Kuwait Towers (pictured, left). Unfortunately, due to Ramadan, the towers were closed and we could not go up, but they are a stunning symbol of the country. The generosity and kindness of my hostess more than made up for the inconvenience.

Because of the daily fasting, much of my trip was spent in night meetings – enjoying coffee with women from the Business and Professional Women of Kuwait (BPW-K), or attending a ghabqa hosted by the Kuwait Economic Society (pictured, below: members of the BPW-K with Christine German, right).

A ghabqa is a gathering that occurs after the traditional iftar meal, which is the meal that breaks the daily fast. Traditionally, a ghabqa is a women-only event that brings together family and friends to eat, talk and maybe even dance. This event, however, brought together men and women from all over Kuwait city to eat, talk and enjoy each other’s company.

My time in Kuwait also coincided with the 20th Anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s occupation during the first Gulf War. This anniversary is important in many ways – during the 80’s and until the 90’s, Kuwait was an up-and-coming nation, far ahead of most of the other Gulf countries. Back then, Dubai was not yet a powerhouse city, and Kuwait was the destination for a lot of investment in the region. However, with the invasion of Hussein’s Iraqi forces and the subsequent occupation, much of that development was brought to a halt. 

Many Kuwaitis are very proud of their country, and for good reason. There is an active civil society, and women were granted the right to vote in 2005. Kuwaitis enjoy an active political atmosphere and engage with their elected and non-elected officials. In Kuwait, I could feel the buzz.

Vital Voices is engaging with some of these active Kuwaitis on a project to examine the recruitment and retention of women in the workforce. We have a great team of women ready to participate, and we will be returning to Kuwait this fall to launch the project.

Watch for my final update from the United Arab Emirates.