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Say no to violence against women!
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 28 - 11 - 2015

Discrimination and violence against women and girls continues to be a topic of global concern. On Nov. 25 the world celebrated the commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The UN initiated the campaign, "UNiTE to End Violence against Women", calling on governments and mobilizing UN agencies, civil society organizations and activists from all over the world to take meaningful action to end violence against women and girls in every community.
Our government like many others across the world is called upon to reflect upon its initiatives to end violence against women. Although there are several organizations that have been established to address the problem, Saudi women still remain disappointed with the lack of serious legislation to hold perpetrators of violence accountable in our society.
Violence against women requires effective, codified Shariah laws so that women can understand their legal rights and violators can be punished for their acts of violence. It is no longer acceptable to allow child marriages, confinement and absolute male domination over women in this day and age. Laws must be amended and new national gender policies should be applied with more efficient institutions to implement them.
Changing attitudes and behavior that tolerate violence against women is also an issue of major concern. Boys at an early age are not taught to show respect for women. Our schools need to foster structural change to help our youth identify inappropriate or violent behavior. Changing the negative attitudes of our youth is critical to preventing violence against women in the future.
Reducing economic, social and political inequalities between men and women remains another problem that women find difficult to overcome. Discrimination at work and the lack of equal opportunities have marginalized their role and deprived them of the chance to pursue successful careers and a better status in life.
Meanwhile, the biggest challenge of all is the rigid interpretation of Shariah laws that keeps women subservient to their male guardians who abuse them physically, mentally, socially and economically. Many women have little or no knowledge about their religious rights or about state laws. Others are afraid to report abuse or ask for their basic rights. The definition of what is allowed and what is not remains vague and continues to encourage perpetrators to indulge in physical and mental abuse of women. To this day most men violate religious teachings and are abusive because they are influenced by aberrant customs and traditions and they are encouraged by the guardianship law that gives them the power to control every aspect in the life of women in our society.
Decision makers are reluctant to implement laws that enforce fair legal actions reflecting the true teachings of Islam and addressing the ambiguities in the rulings of hardline Shariah scholars. For how long will women continue to struggle to fight the discrimination and the injustice in courts because of biased judges and senior scholars who remain indifferent to the sufferings of women and their grievances?
According to research conducted by the National Family Safety Program, one in every six women is abused verbally, physically or emotionally every day, and 90 percent of the abusers are usually husbands or fathers.
Shoura Council members have done little to address the negative attitudes that encourage violence against women. The hardliners in the Shoura Council keep blocking the proposals to amend the discriminatory laws. Not many prominent men in society have dared to defy the hardline scholars.
There are currently several organizations that have been established to address the problem of domestic violence in the Kingdom. The National Family Safety Program which is headed by Princess Adela Bint Abdullah, is dedicated to the prevention of child abuse and neglect and it offers protection to victims of domestic violence. The King Khaled Charitable Foundation has also played a role in addressing the phenomenon of domestic violence by launching the Protection from Abuse system which prompts reporting, immediate response, rehabilitation and protection against abuse.
The Ministry of Social Affairs - General Directorate for Social Protection runs 17 Protection Committees in various provinces to serve victims of domestic abuse; the Human Rights Commission and the National Society for Human Rights also address violence against women and children and the Saudi National Health Council has approved a hospital-based child protection team's project. However, the adopted systems of the organizations lack adequate implementation and their resources are insufficient to address the needs of the victims of violence.
The government should show a more serious commitment with meaningful action and adequate rules and regulations to curb the prevalence of violence against women in our society. Women have had enough of lip-service reforms. The time to act is now.
Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer. She can be reached at [email protected]

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