Who is Saudi Arabia’s ‘bravest woman’ fighting domestic abuse?

Saudi Dr. Maha al-Muneef received the US Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award in 2014

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Saudi Dr. Maha al-Muneef received the US Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award in 2014. During his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, US President Barak Obama formally presented Muneef with the award for playing her role in protecting women and children in the Saudi Arabia from domestic abuse and violence.

AlArabiya.net recently sat down with Muneef to understand her work as a doctor helping others.

Muneef is a mother and knows that courage lies in choosing the right education for her children. She does not want to raise them the same way as her father did to her, because time and circumstances have changed although she maintained the same values and principles.

She said that her family bond with her uncle, the famous writer and novelist Abdulrahman al-Munif, did not push her towards literature. He did not influence her much because she had pure scientific tendencies, despite her love for her uncle and his eternal appreciation towards Antara Bin Shaddad. However, her brothers inherited the love of literature from her uncle but she personally tends to have more scientific tendencies by virtue of her specialization.

Muneef is a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases and the Executive Director of Saudi Arabia’s National Family Safety Program (NFSP). She holds a bachelor's degree in medicine and surgery from King Saud University since 1986 and is a graduate of Yale University in pediatric infectious diseases. She has previously worked in the Shura Council for five years.

When asked about how she sees the title of the bravest woman in the world, she said that it makes her more determined to fight domestic violence. She believes that the Award gave legitimacy and further credibility to her work on domestic violence in Saudi Arabia. She added that she looks forward to carry on her work as an activist in the field of child and family protection.

We asked her if she thinks that Saudi society needs specialists in the field of violence against children, she said that unfortunately, violence is a phenomenon that has always been part of the society. Therefore, it is very important to have specialists to combat violence in the communities and deal with this problem to promote prevention and protection to women, children and elderly members.

The National Family Safety Program works to build the capacity of activists working with family members, whether doctors or specialists, by providing courses for persons dealing with cases of violence and abuse. Also, we are working on the launch of a diploma specializing in domestic violence for social workers.

When asked if violence and negative behaviors towards children, are increasing with time, she said that she cannot give an accurate estimation. She only hopes that with the continued awareness in this field, the violence will decrease in the society. “The experiences of countries that have preceded us in this field, have shown that the development of awareness and preventive programs leads to a drop in the rate of violence,” she added.

*This article was first published on AlArabiya.net.

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