I REMEMBER my first encounter with domestic violence when I was six years old and living in America. I was at the house of a Palestinian friend of my mother when the woman’s husband stormed in drunk and started hitting her for no apparent reason. It was terrifying to me for I had never seen such uncalled-for violence.
Now 17 years later, I hear that the woman is still married to that man. I realize that she cannot do anything but stay married. She has no education, no home, no family and she cannot go back to her country. However, Saudi women who are fortunate to have all of those things are prevented from acting because of “shame and reputation”.
There are no accurate statistics about domestic violence in Saudi Arabia because most violence is unreported. The government of Saudi Arabia has passed strict laws to prevent domestic violence and protect women, punishing offenders with a fine and up to one year of imprisonment. So, if it is not the law, or lack of it, that stops Saudi women from filing complaints, then what is it?
Well, I think it related to the question: “What would people say?” Unfortunately we are a society that is overly concerned about external image and reputation when we should be concerned with our mental health and our safety. What we do not realize is that our children are strongly affected by our behavior so when they witness domestic violence they will think that it is okay for a man to hit a woman and the woman should submit. In this way, the cycle is never-ending.
We raise men to be leaders and to have the last say in matters and women to be obedient, but that needs to change! We should raise them to have respect and open-mindedness. Relationships should be based on equality, partnership and sharing responsibilities.
There is no basis for domestic violence in religion and yet some people say that God gave men the right to beat women if they are disobedient. Some use the verse in the Holy Qur’an from Surah An Nisa “Men are in charge of women by right of what Allah has given one over the other” (4:34) to interpret the right of men to beat and control women, when in fact it means that men are charged with protecting and saving women’s rights. Why do we let these things happen to women? And why don’t women speak out?
The problem of domestic violence is international, it does not matter where you come from; you will encounter it no matter what. But the difference between Arab women and Western women is the factor of shame and reputation. Arab women are afraid of bringing shame to their family or the reduction of the masculinity of men. Families and traditions always come first; therefore if a woman is married to her cousin it will be 10 times harder for her to speak out because the whole family including her parents will stand against her. Thus, the woman carries the burden of the possibility of ruining the relationship between members of the family for good.
Less educated people who listen to false interpretations without asking questions or searching for the right answers are the ones who are less likely to speak out about domestic violence since the woman will undoubtedly be the one who is blamed. “Why did he beat you? What did you do? You deserve it.”
The problem of domestic violence is somewhat less important for women who work because they have the ability of supporting themselves and their children and being independent. Housewives are more affected by this age-old phenomenon.
A lot of women do not seek help because they like the status and lifestyle that they have and without money they will be faced with poverty or a less lavish lifestyle, so they hold their peace and take the beating. Other women do not seek help solely for the sake of their children because they don’t want to lose them or they do not want them to live without a father figure.
All things considered, we need social science education in schools from a young age to change the social norm of the pyramidal chain of authority and to promote equality for all. Hopefully in the future with education and a renewed trust in the law, women will be more confidant to report domestic violence.
This article was first published in Saudi Gazette
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