Outlawing Saudi domestic abuse: too little, too late?

Yara al-Wazir
Yara al-Wazir
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This week, the Council of Ministers in Saudi Arabia passed a law against abuse, be it domestic or at the workplace. However, this could be too little, too late for the victims.

Fawzi al-Khaibari was prosecuted earlier this month for murdering his wife Saliha al-Qadiri. According to the police report, she was “tortured monstrously,” with a crushed skull, burn marks from an iron, and bruises. The investigation revealed an ongoing cycle of abuse in which she had either stayed silent, or been suppressed by the authorities or her family.

Qadiri’s broken body represents a plague in our society. The cultural norm of “letting it go” for fear of “bringing shame” to the family name is one that sadly still exists. The only person who should feel shame in a domestic violence crime is the attacker. Acts like this cannot be justified by provocation.

The law imposed this week proposes a minimum of one month in jail, or a fine against the abuser. It fails to recognize the cause of the problem, or tackle the issue at its core, through counselling for instance. As such, the cycle is likely to continue.

Until governments in the region act to protect their female populations with safe, private shelters, the cycle will continue. Without counselling for both spouses, and without ensuring the victim’s emotional, financial and societal support, the cycle will continue.

It is difficult to place singular blame in cases such as this. Khaibari had a history of domestic violence, which is wrong. Despite this, Qadiri stayed. The authorities did not intervene. Nor did her family and friends. Like many women in the Middle East, and indeed the world, she was helpless and hopeless, living in a community that suppressed her basic human right of a dignified marriage.

Before the law was passed, a campaign was launched in June to raise awareness about the epidemic of violence against women in Saudi Arabia. The campaign’s slogan, “No More Abuse,” is as powerful as its image of a veiled woman with a bruised eye.

The only push that women should receive is one into employment. Empowering them to take leadership and ownership of their own lives opens up a world of opportunities

Yara al-Wazir

A prime ministerial decree of 2008 that promised to expand the “social protection units” for women has no measure of success. However, considering that five years later a woman has died after repeated abuse, it is safe to say that more investment needs to go into this expansion.

If governments are unable to commit to providing financial support for attacked spouses, which admittedly, considering the rates of abuse, is a lot to ask, then government and civil society must ensure that women have the tools needed to lead a self-sustaining life. Would Qadiri have stayed with her husband if she could lead her own life, pay her own bills, and live safely without the fear of repercussions from her family, in-laws or society?

If she had a job that she could turn to, things would have been different. The only push that women should receive is one into employment. Empowering them to take leadership and ownership of their own lives opens up a world of opportunities. Of course, the government’s responsibility to provide jobs should in no way be exclusive to women.

Studies have shown a direct correlation between male unemployment and domestic violence.

Violence against women does not exclusively affect those in Saudi Arabia or the Middle East. The World Health Organization says that globally, one in three women have suffered, or will suffer, abuse from a family member or partner at some point in their life.

Even in countries where the justice system is just, where shelters exist, and where legal and financial support are guaranteed, the psychology behind abuse remains as complex as the issues themselves. The root cause cannot be boiled down to one particular outlet - it is the glue of the corrupt social, economic and legal triangle that allows this issue to persist.

Tackling it is not a one-man, or one-woman, job. It must be taken on by society, government and legal experts, and it will take at least a generation to overcome.


Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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