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The existence of policewomen in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries is often painted as evidence of the political and cultural liberalization of the Gulf. It is also seen as representing gender equality, and respect for human rights in the region – important for enticing global economic trade and investment in these countries, as well as maintaining positive relationships with strategic, Western allies. This article draws on a multi-dimensional theoretical framework including globalization, cultural criminological and comparative feminist theories, to unearth the social and political meanings of the introduction of women police in Kuwait in 2009. Like their counterparts in other Gulf countries, their new deployment spawned a media discourse about them as signifiers of political, social, and economic liberalization, modernization, and globalization, designed to influence global perceptions of Kuwait; however, other contested meanings were also palpable. The present research is a discourse analysis of English and Arabic newspaper articles from May 2008 to April 2012 primarily aimed at non-Kuwaiti media consumers. A close reading of these articles uncovers the stated reasons that women should be welcomed into the national police force: as service providers to the nation; pioneering women in a male-dominated field; defenders of traditional gender segregation; and symbols of modernization and development. Meanwhile internal ambiguity and contestation about women’s roles in positions of authority are also confronted, such as their problematic deployment given more conservative notions of female identity in both the cultural and religious senses. Overall, the research shows that the media coverage about Kuwaiti policewomen puts forth a bipolar frame of the debate about their deployment as being one about tradition versus modernization. This framing obscures the nuance in the debate and the notion that policewomen in Kuwait may actually be symbols of both tradition and modernity simultaneously.
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