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Domestic violence no longer a social taboo
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 12 - 04 - 2008

Thanks to women who had the courage to openly discuss their anguish because of violence against them, domestic violence is no longer a taboo in Saudi Arabia.
Officials of the Ministry of Social Affairs and the National Society of Human Rights (NSHR) say that more women in Saudi Arabia are willing to blow the violence that goes on behind closed doors wide open and raise their voices in protest.
They said it is a new beginning to end the cycle of violence that plagues many homes and scars families, and especially children.Coming out
“There are more women and children who report cases of violence against them now than before,” said Dr. Saleh Al- Khathlan, head of the Monitoring and Follow-up Committee at the NSHR. “It is a positive change which means that more women are standing up and saying no to aggressive behavior (within their families.)”
Khathlan added that violence perpetrated by close family members, particularly against women and children, is far more rampant than many people might think. The NHRS has been very concerned with putting an end to it, he said.
Various organizations, such as hospitals, social services units, women's activist groups, human rights organizations and government agencies, are working towards a stop to this problem.
Last May, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz had ordered that a new court be established, which would specifically hear cases of domestic violence.
The Social Protection Committee of the Ministry of Social Affairs has 508 abuse cases on record from 2007.Lopsided numbers
The records depict quite a lopsided – if disturbing nonetheless – picture, with 452 female victims of domestic violence, as opposed to only 56 male victims. In those cases, most of the offenders were fathers and husbands.
The committee said this is “only the tip of the iceberg,” because there are far more cases of domestic violence across the country that have not been reported.
The committee added that the exact number of incidences of domestic violence is very difficult to determine for several reasons. Cases often go unreported, either in fear of retaliation by the offending spouses or relatives or out of social image concerns. Also, no nationwide organization exists that would have gathered information from local police departments about the number of substantiated reports and calls.
The most daunting reason, however, is that there is no universal, nationwide consensus on what actions constitutes domestic violence or fall within that definition.Whatever they need
The Ministry of Social Affair, the government department authorized to deal with problems associated with domestic violence, has organized a committee composed of representatives of the Ministry of Health, local police, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, governorates, and local social services units.
“We handle cases of domestic violence by forwarding them to this committee, which studies the case and prepares a report,” says Ibrahim Al-Omair, Director of the Eastern Province division of the Ministry of Social Services. “Caseworkers are assigned to counsel victims, the accused and their families. Counseling is provided and every detail is written down.”
Many cases, Omair added, are resolved with negotiations and counseling. The victims of cases that cannot be resolved this way are referred to shelters for women and children.
“In these shelters, all their needs are taken care of, including their food and other basic needs and expenses, until their problems are resolved,” said Omair.Did you know?
While help is already available for victims, awareness is still nowhere near where it should be.
“Women need to be aware that they are actually being abused in the first place,” said Dr. Khalid Darak, supervisor of social services at Saudi Aramco and chairman of the organizing committee of the Against Domestic Violence Campaign. “Many don't even acknowledge it, let alone do something about it.”
Saudi Aramco Medical Services Organization (SAMSO) conducted its first campaign against domestic violence in March at the SciTech Exhibition Center in Khobar. A similar drive will be conducted in Riyadh and Jeddah.
“The awareness campaign was meant to be an eye- opener,” said Darak. “Women should learn to say no and break the silence over violence. Don't be a victim, don't victimize. We need to speak out against domestic violence, not hide it. Take action personally and reach out to help others caught in these abusive relationships.”Reciprocal causation
The causes of domestic violence are as complicated as the problem itself. Poverty, drug-abuse and lack of communication normally figure highly.
“Disagreements and the failure to resolve issues with talks usually lead to violence, says Khathlan of the NHRS. “ Apart from the women themselves, the other victims are the children who get caught in between. In any case, this is unacceptable.”
While many might argue that Islam allows wife-beating, Aramco's Darak says it is simply a dubious argument.
“The concept of sponsorship in Islam – which entails that man assumes leadership in the family and is obligated to provide shelter and food – is misinterpreted by the abusers, who use that as means of mistreating their wives,” he said.
The issue was brought into the limelight in Saudi Arabia by the famous television anchor Rania Al-Baz. In April 2004, one of what she said was her husband's frequent and brutal beatings turned nearly fatal. Gruesome photographs of Baz's injuries were featured in national newspapers and worldwide. She became the first Saudi woman ever to publicly display her battered face.
Her husband was convicted of severe battery and sentenced to six months in jail and 300 lashes. In one of her famous television appearances after the incident, she said, “I don't feel like I'm a hero… I feel that no woman should be a victim of her husband, or a victim, period. A woman should have the ability to choose her own destiny.”
The first shelter for victims of domestic violence in Saudi Arabia was established in Makkah a few years ago. With help from UNICEF, the center temporarily hosts women, children, the elderly and runaway girls while their cases are being processed.
Many such shelters are available for women and children in major cities. However, most of them are makeshift, overcrowded and inadequate.
Ibrahim Al-Mugaiteeb, founder of the Human Rights First Society, feels that there is a need for more shelters.
“The existing (shelters) cannot meet the growing number of women who need help,” he said.
He feels that real NGOs need to be established, and the existing ones like this need to be licensed. __


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