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Saudis put a black eye on domestic abuse

King Khalid Foundation

A Saudi Arabian advertising campaign against domestic violence. The caption reads: "Some things can't be covered; Fighting women's abuse together."

Saudi Arabia, a country where women still are not permitted to drive by themselves, has launched a provocative new anti-domestic abuse campaign.

The startling ad shows a Saudi woman in a typical veil sporting a black eye. Underneath the photo, a caption reads: “Some things can’t be covered; Fighting women's abuse together."

The campaign, funded by the King Khalid Foundation, aims to provide legal protection for women and children victims of abuse in Saudi Arabia, and is encouraging Saudis to report cases of domestic violence to nearby help centers. 

"Everyone knows it happens," said Umm Mohammed, a shopkeeper in Souk Al Owais, a bustling market in central Riyadh, in response to the new campaign.

"But I don't know if it's important enough or not just to show these pictures. If they're telling us about something we don't know, that's one thing. But what if we already know? Then what? Are they going to help these women?"

The vendor, a single mother of eight children who can barely eke out a living in this oil rich male-dominated society, was largely left unimpressed by the pioneering initiative to raise awareness of the social taboo.

"Insha'Allah (God Willing), it will help, but that's only for physical abuse. Who will care about the psychological and emotional abuse that women like me suffer? Women here have so many problems and domestic abuse is just one of them."

Indeed, for most ordinary citizens like Mohammed, women have much larger issues to deal with in a country where men still have to be relied upon for almost every administrative matter. The majority of female graduates are left without employment opportunities and have to rely on a male guardian to get permission to travel outside the country. Divorced women are largely denied the custody of their children.

The Saudi press has recently been replete with stories of abuse towards expatriate maids and foreign workers. A few months ago, the tragic story of a Saudi cleric who raped and murdered his 5-year-old daughter made international headlines. The fact that the man was not sentenced to death for his crimes sparked outrage and condemnation by both the press and the public. However, stories or reports that focus on battered wives are far less common within the national newspapers. 

Official statistics on domestic abuse in Saudi Arabia are sketchy, to say the least.

Princess Ameerah al-Taweel, a passionate women's rights advocate and the Vice Chairwoman of the Board of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation, sees the campaign as an important step in the right direction.

"The main issue when it comes to abused women in Saudi is lack of knowledge. Some women who accept being abused don't know their rights in Islam, and a lot of women who are suffering from abuse, don't know their rights in our legal system. That they can report their case and they will be protected by the government,” said al-Taweel.

“That is why such a campaign is vital to let women know – especially in rural areas – their rights.  That such acts are not acceptable and cannot be tolerated – not only for a woman's safety, but for her kids as well. The first step for women to protect themselves is to not be afraid to speak up."

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