Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat- Today, women around the world are observing the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which is held on the 25th of November every year. However, Saudi specialists and human rights activists have expressed concern about increasing cases of domestic violence in Saudi Arabia, recorded against women specifically. The National Society for Human Rights summarized its latest statistics to Asharq Al-Awsat, which reveal that the organization has received 294 cases of domestic violence from the beginning of this year until October. This is more than the total recorded last year (257 cases), despite the fact that there is more than a month remaining in 2010.
According to statistics, cases of physical and psychological violence make up around 74 percent of total cases recorded by the organization, from the beginning of this year to last month. Then next most common case was the refusal to give permission for marriage (6.8 percent), followed by asylum seeking (4 percent), sexual harassment (3.4 percent), abuse as a result of drug or alcohol addiction (2.7 percent), denial of salary and property infringement (2.7 percent), preventing children from seeing their mother (1.7 percent), the denial of education (1 percent), and finally the denial of employment (0.3 percent).
Asharq Al-Awsat also obtained the latest statistics for personal status cases recorded with the National Society for Human Rights for this year until October, which totaled 295 incidents. The most common case was the prevention of a spouse from seeing their children (26 percent), followed by child maintenance issues (23 percent), custody issues (20 percent), divorce cases (14.5 percent), the denial of inheritance (6.7 percent), refusal to grant a divorce, and abandonment (4.4 percent), unrecognized spouses and divorce claims (2.7 percent), and finally cases where the husband is deemed incapable of supporting the family (2 percent).
According to the latest figures, the total cases of abuse recorded by the National Society of Human Rights, since its inception 6 years ago, until October 2010, stands at 1835 cases, whilst the total number of personal status cases registered with the organization during the same period stands at 1825.
For her part, Sharifa al-Shamlan, supervisor of the Women’s Department in the Commission on Human Rights in the Eastern Province, revealed that increasing cases of abuse against women are linked to what she described as “the pressures of life”, pointing out that “a lack of monetary resources causes pressure on both sides (men and women). This goes beyond abuse against women, and also extends to the child, who is neither well-educated nor well-fed”. Al-Shamlan explained that “economic abuse against women is spreading amongst the poor sectors of society, and these acts include the denial of inheritance, as well as preventing women from working or earning a salary, and so on”.
Al-Shamlan, speaking in a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, added that the majority of cases received by the Commission on Human Rights were issues of custody and alimony. She also highlighted the increase in cases of women being prevented from travel and education, saying: “We deal with these issues seriously; we were able to win the right for girls to travel, and have improved their affairs, but not enough to fully address these cases. What is needed is the force of the law, there must be a system overruling all in this regard”.
Al-Shamlan explained that the issue of preventing women from traveling has affected many girls who wished to gain scholarships and study abroad. She stressed that the Department of Passports often did not cooperate with the Commission in this regard, whilst wondering “why is an honest, successful girl unable to travel?” Al-Shamlan also pointed out that some parents prevent their daughters from entering university after high school, however she emphasized that the problem lies in the fact that many girls are resigned to such circumstances being the normality.
As for Dr. Khalid al-Halibi, director of the Center for Family Development in al-Ahsa, he believes that the most prominent cause of abuse is the continued practice of traditional upbringings in Saudi households, which differ from Islamic upbringings, which have been supported by psychological studies and modern guidelines. He added: “[In a traditional upbringing] a woman would remain silent instead of claiming her human rights, whilst the man would continue to mistreat her, whatever his family relation. However, there are some instances when the women can provoke the man to lose his temper, with her unrealistic demands, or with her digressions”.
During his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, al-Halibi highlighted a recent study confirming that around 95 percent of female visitors to psychiatric clinics in Saudi Arabia are suffering from an emotional vacuum, and have symptoms such as depression and social phobias. This comes as a result of failed relationships, or unsuccessful marriages. Women search for compensation for their loss of interest and structure, and often resort to the wrong methods.
He continued to say: “The abuse of females, in the form of beatings and insults, denying their right to inheritance, or neglecting them emotionally, completely goes against Shariaa law. This dictates that girls in particular, and women in general, are a blessing, and by treating them well, one can be shielded from hell, and guided to heaven. I believe that the solution lies in the need for widespread public awareness, and significant funding for these campaigns. Developing our towns and streets is not as important as developing our human rights, and safeguarding their values. We must establish the family on the basis of psychological stability, so that it is able to produce model citizens”.
When Dr. al-Halibi was asked about the phenomenon of girls escaping from their marital homes, considering the frequency in which such tragic incidents have been published in the media, he said: “I do not think it has become a phenomenon, but it has grown for many reasons. The most important of these is the lack of sincere effort to tackle this issue, by studying the causes and trying to address it”.
It is important to recognize that the General Society of the United Nations has declared the 25th of November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (resolution 54/134). The UN has called on all governments, international organizations, and NGOs, to organize activities and raise public awareness of abuse against women. This date was specifically chosen as on this day in 1960, the world witnessed the brutal assassination of the Mirabel sisters. They were four political activists from the Dominican Republic, and are now considered a symbol for those wishing to combat abuse against women.