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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Why Saudi Arabia's Domestic Abuse Law is not Enough

On the 26th of August 2013, Saudi Arabia adopted a law that criminalizes domestic violence and abuse.

I commend this effort, as It is indicative that the government has finally turned its face towards Saudi women and some of the issues that confront them.

However, I believe that there is still so much to be done, by the government to demonstrate its seriousness to see this through.

In a Kingdom where there is still controversy over women driving; where women have zero participation in politics; where women need at least six men to accompany them to court or to buy or sell any property, expecting women to freely come forward and report cases of domestic abuse is somewhat of a tall order.

How will these women drive to report these crimes against them?

And will they need credible men to testify to their legitimacy?

And if indeed they will need men to corroborate their stories, who will the men be? Her brothers? Her in-laws? Neighbours? I think it’s highly unlikely.

How will the issue of ‘honour’ or male guardianship/ownership affect the women who decide to speak out when abused?

Even in countries where the political climes are more favorable towards women, there is still a gap between reports of abuse against women and prosecution of cases of these abuses.

Often times, women who report domestic abuse or violence are brow beaten, ostracized and emotionally blackmailed or even threatened until they withdraw these charges against their husbands or partners who commit these crimes.
Some rural women I work with were banned from women groups in their places of worship and in the community; they were restricted from participating in family traditions and get-together. Some of them were thrown out of their homes and were forbidden from seeing their children.

Their family and in-laws saw them as responsible for the divisions in the family, they said.

For some of these women, close knit family ties, social interactions and a cordial relationship with their in-laws means the world to them. When there is an unwritten conspiracy against them, for other members of the family and community not to speak and associate with them because they 'sold their abusive husbands out' they may become depressed and deeply troubled.

It is even more difficult because many of these women do not earn their own incomes and have almost no formal education.

If the Saudi's government is really serious about putting a stop to domestic abuse, it must lift existing  laws and innuendos that restrict women’s rights.

It must empower more women by educating them, employing them, allowing them equal opportunities as men. Employment rate of 17% for Saudi women as it is now is unacceptable.

Also, there is need for massive re-orientation and sensitization.
Men who perpetrate abuse of any kind against women must be called out for what they are: that they are disturbed and need intervention. When society begins to see abusers this way, they may be more open to reporting issues of domestic abuse and abusers, corroborating women’s reports of abuse and helping survivors of these abuses get back on their feet.

Older women and mothers must also be targeted says Mama Sunday, a rural woman who lives in Lagos. Many mothers have told their daughter’s, tales of how they endured severe beatings by their husbands during the first years of their marriages and how the beatings have suddenly stopped. They have grown deeply in love with their former abusive husbands.

That is not the story mothers or any one especially movie makers should promote.

Stories that tell the world how these women empowered themselves to end or escape these abuses are the ones folklore's or oral traditions and entertainment media should promote!