Magazine article New Internationalist

The Other Side of Silence

Magazine article New Internationalist

The Other Side of Silence

Article excerpt

RANIA AL BAZ'S husband was angry because he came in and found her on the telephone. It was not the first time he had beaten her, but this time when she begged him not to hit her, his reply was: 'Hit you? I'm not going to hit you, I am going to kill you.'

He then repeatedly smashed her face against the marble floor and walls of their home and tried to strangle her. He left her unconscious for a couple of hours while he showered and changed then bundled her up in a sheet and put her in the family van.

'When my daughter regained consciousness,' related Rania's mother, 'she found herself in the van and she thought he was taking her to Obhur to bury her. When he heard her moaning and trying to speak, he must have panicked because he pulled into Bugshan Hospital.'

According to security at the hospital, he dumped the injured Rania at the emergency room entrance, telling nurses and staff that she was the victim of a car accident and was dead. He then left quickly saying he was going to bring other victims of the accident.

Rania al Baz is one of Saudi Arabia's few women TV presenters. She was well known for her chatty, magazine-style show The Kingdom this morning. As a result of the assault, her face was fractured in 13 places.

Rania was not alone in suffering in this way though she was unusual in that she spoke out about her injuries. The statistics on such violence - often disparagingly called 'domestic', are astounding. It crosses all boundaries of race and class. In Europe, it is the major cause of ill-health for women between 16 and 44 - more common than cancer or traffic accidents. In the US, a woman is beaten every 18 minutes. In Peru, 70 per cent of all crimes reported to the police involve women beaten by their husbands.1 In Russia, one woman in five is regularly beaten by her partner.2 In India and Bangladesh, women are killed or burned with acid for not bringing enough dowry into their husband's family when they marry.

There have been major changes to laws on domestic violence over the past 10 years, prompted by activists and women like Rania who have run campaigns and lobbied international organizations and governments. In 1991, women's groups around the world launched an annual campaign of 16 days of activism against gender violence; 25 November is now International Day Against Violence Against Women. In 1994, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women asserted that the law should protect women from violence in both public and private spheres. And in the same year the Organization of American States adopted the Belém do Para Convention, which sets out actions that governments must take to eliminate violence against women.

Organizations campaigning against gender-based violence are increasingly using all the tools at their disposal. In Rajasthan, India, when members of the Bal Rashmi Society - which actively opposes sexual exploitation, rape, dowry-related deaths and torture - were jailed, an internet alert led to the suspension of their trials. BaBe, a strategic lobbying group in Croatia, has used the internet to raise awareness of women's experience of violence during war, and to bring about a new family law that includes restraining orders against men in domestic rape cases. Women Living Under Muslim Laws has mounted a web campaign around the denial of women's rights in Islamic societies. WomenNet in South Africa used the Internet for a 'Stop Rape' campaign supported by international signatories.

At national level, many countries have enacted specific domestic violence legislation and taken other action - the first shelters for battered women were opened in Russia in 1994, in Mongolia in 1995 and in China in 1996.3

But still only 45 countries have legislation protecting women against domestic violence and many of these laws are not regularly enforced. The scale and pattern of the violence seems to have changed very little in the past decade - and there are places where it has increased. …

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