A royal edict fights domestic violence in Saudi Arabia.
In Saudi Arabia, a king’s order cannot be ignored. King Abdullah has called for
a commission composed of experts in Sharia, family law, sociology, and psychology,
to monitor and punish domestic violence.
Rania’s Courage. The commission, including seven governmental ministries, also includes an 800
number where victims can report violence without revealing their identities. The
feared and powerful religious police will be responsible for investigating. Violence
against women and children is certainly not confined to Saudi Arabia, but here
in the religiously conservative land of oil, the male head of the family holds
nearly total authority. No women would dream of reporting on her father, brother,
or husband for attacks against her. But television reaches even deep into Saudi
households, and Rania al-Baz, an admired and beloved Channel One television announcer,
appeared on her program in April, 2004, with her face covered with wounds and
bruises. She explained that her husband had beaten her into that state. It took
twelve operations to restore her former beauty. “I want to use what happened to
me to bring attention to the condition of women in Saudi Arabia,” she declared.
Her story was a shock for the country and a signal for women that resistance is
possible. But very few women enjoy her prestige and visibility, and finally even
Rania was compelled to move to Paris to escape from all the controversy. But her
story stuck and something has begun to change.
An Evolving Country.
“We need new laws to protect the weakest elements of our society, women and
children, who are often victims of violence.” With these words the Workshop on
Domestic and Social Violence concluded three days of proceedings last March 9
in Gedda. The statement represents the first public statement against domestic
violence in a country where the subject was taboo until now. The new royal edict
was accompanied by the first statistics, listing 569 acts of domestic violence
in 2005 alone. Much work needs to be done, but progress is being made. The Saudi
monarchy is trying to modernize the country, a difficult and often contradictory
process where the emancipation of women seems to go against tradition. For the
first time, elections were held a year ago, limited to municipal councils and
still denying the vote to women. But women were allowed to stand as candidates,
and two were elected to the administrative council in Gedda. Rania’s courage has
helped other women find out that they can turn to others for aid. The literary
sensation of the year is a book written by a Saudi women barely over twenty, Rajaa
al-Sanie, entitled The Girls of Riad. The stories consists of four young female
friends who exchange emails revealing dreams and secrets. The book paints a far
more liberated portrait of Saudi women than has previously been imagined in terms
of the women’s self-awareness and sexual and cultural maturity. The Girls of Riad
cannot be found in Saudi bookstores but has become an internet bestseller.