By Hoda Nassef
Domestic violence against women is a significant problem and is reflected in press accounts. According to a national study conducted in 1995 as part of a comprehensive demographic and health survey, one of every three women who have ever been married has been beaten at least once during marriage. Among those who have been beaten, less than half have ever sought help. Smaller, independent studies confirm that wife beating is common.
Several NGO's (Non-Governmental Organizations) offer counseling, legal aid, and other services to women who are victims of domestic violence. These activists believe that in general the police and the judiciary consider the "integrity of the family" more important than the well being of the woman.
Although reliable statistics regarding rape are not available, activists believe that it is not uncommon, despite strong social disapproval. When "honour killings" (a man murdering a female for her perceived lack of chastity) occur, perpetrators generally receive lighter punishments than those convicted in other cases of murder. There are no reliable statistics regarding the extent of honor killings.
‘Female Genital Mutilation’, is common despite the Government's commitment to eradicating the practice and NGO efforts to combat it. Traditional and family pressures remain strong; a study conducted during the year estimates the percentage of women who have ever been married who have undergone FGM at 97 percent. The survey showed that attitudes may be changing slowly; over a 5-year period, the incidence of FGM among the daughters (from ages 11 to 19) of women surveyed fell from 83 to 78 percent. FGM generally is performed on girls between the ages of 7 and 12, with equal prevalence among Muslims and Christians.
Domestic Violence is prevailent in many Middle-Eastern countries, USA and Europe, but for lack of space, I will only mention a few. However, there is no real statistic of the exact amount of this crime, as it is unfortunately considered by many countries secondary to other crimes, or even not taken seriously at all, in others. On the other hand, many victims of abuse do not make any official complaint, or are too ashamed to do so. Most victims fear more abuse from their tormentors and the perpetrators of abuse, if they try to escape or complain officially, whereas in some countries, it is not even taken seriously by the police.
By religious law and social custom, women have the right to own property and are entitled to financial support from their husbands or male relatives. However, women have few political or social rights and are not treated as equal members of society. There are no active women's rights groups. Women legally may not drive motor vehicles and are restricted in their use of public facilities when men are present. Women must enter city buses by separate rear entrances and sit in specially designated sections. Women risk arrest by the Mutawwa'in (religious volunteer police) for riding in a vehicle driven by a male who is not an employee or a close male relative.
Women are not admitted to a hospital for medical treatment without the consent of a male relative. By law and custom, women may not undertake domestic or foreign travel alone.
While Shari'a provides women with a basis to own and dispose of property independently, women often are constrained from asserting such rights.
Violence against women is common. Reported incidents of violence against women do not reflect the full extent of the problem. Medical experts acknowledge that spousal abuse occurs frequently. However, cultural norms discourage victims from seeking medical or legal help thus making it difficult to assess the extent of such abuse. Abused women have the right to file a complaint in court against their spouses for physical abuse but in practice familial and societal pressures discourage them from seeking legal remedies. Marital rape is not illegal.
The Criminal Code allows leniency for a person found guilty of committing a so-called "honor crime," a violent assault with intent to commit murder against a female by a relative for her perceived immodest behavior or alleged sexual misconduct. Law enforcement treatment of men accused of "honor crimes" reflects widespread unwillingness to recognize the abuse involved or to take action against the problem.
In December police arrested a man for beating to death his 19-year-old sister in November for "reasons of honor." Police were investigating a second brother for his suspected involvement in the killing at year's end. Police exhumed the woman's body from a cemetery in which she was buried illegally. Medical tests proved that the victim had not engaged in sexual activity.
Violence against women is a problem. The press reports cases of rape with increasing frequency, and cases reported are thought to be only a fraction of the actual number. There are no authoritative statistics on the extent of spousal abuse. Most experts agree that the problem affects a significant portion of the female population. In general battered or abused women do not talk about their suffering for fear of bringing shame upon their own families or accusations of misbehavior upon themselves.
Some religious courts legally can compel a battered wife to return to the house in spite of physical abuse. Many women are compelled to remain in abusive marriages because of social and family pressures. Possible loss of custody of children and the absence of an independent source of income also prevent women from leaving their husbands. Doctors and social workers believe that most abused women do not seek medical help because of shame or inability to pay for treatment.