Welcome to the 21st century: Saudi Arabia makes history with a law against abusing women
THREE months back, Policymic.com pointed out that:
It’s a well known fact that Saudi’s record on women’s rights is stupefyingly abysmal. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report in 2009 placed the country in 130th place (out of 134 nations) when it comes to gender parity. Although women have ‘earned’ the right to ride bikes and vote in elections, they still cannot drive or even travel without the permission of a male guardian. In fact, Saudi has set-up a tracking system that alerts men with a text message when their wife has left the country.
It’s no surprise that a deeply misogynistic culture translates into high levels of domestic violence for Saudi women. According to Saudi reporter Samar Fatany, who cites studies from The National Family Safety Program, one in six women experience emotional, verbal or physical violence every single day. More than 90% of this abuse is propagated by their husbands and relatives.
Reports like this – and there have been hundreds written about Saudi Arabia’s entrenched misogyny – have apparently stung the authorities into doing something about the problem, and today the Internet is buzzing with the news the Muslim kingdom’s cabinet has passed a law prohibiting domestic violence and other forms of abuse against women for the first time in its history.
The ban on physical or sexual violence is to apply both at home and within the workplace.
The legislation not only makes domestic violence a punishable crime for the first time but also provides treatment and shelter for victims of abuse and holds law enforcement agencies accountable for investigating and prosecuting allegations of abuse.
The ban includes penalties of a maximum12 month jail sentence and fines of up to $13,000.
The cabinet reportedly said in a statement:
All civilian or military employees and all workers in the private sector who learn of a case of abuse — by virtue of their work — shall report the case to their employers when they know it. The employers shall report the case to the Ministry of Social Affairs or police when they know it.
A campaign calling for an end to violence against women was run for the first time earlier in the year, using an image of a woman wearing a hijab with her eyes visible through slits in the veil.
Domestic violence has previously been considered legally a private matter in the Arab state, until the poster was released to encourage more open discussions of the issue.
In the domestic violence advert, one of the woman’s eyes appears blackened and bruised, with the slogan “Some things can’t be covered up” written in Arabic underneath.
The campaign aims to:
Provide legal protection for women and children from abuse in Saudi Arabia.
It endorsed by the King Kahalid Charitable Foundation, which described “the phenomenon of battered women in Saudi Arabia” as “much greater than expected”.
But as Jane Martinson pointed out in a piece in the Guardian, domestic violence campaigns won’t work unless women can actually can see them.
The women most likely to be affected by the violence it [the campaign] depicts are unlikely to be able to see it without permission from the men who rules their lives … The internet, where these women could see the image, is heavily censored … Since the Internet is largely under government control in Saudi Arabia and that women’s lives are so cripplingly controlled by their male guardians, what guarantees that they are even aware of this campaign’s existence?