Laila Al Amri

Laila Al Amri

Journalist

Social Protection Friends rises against domestic violence

In its latest of a wave of sociocultural reforms, Saudi Arabia has launched a new initiative in its fight against domestic violence, Social Protection Friends, launched earlier this month, was designed as a platform to disseminate knowledge raise and awareness around domestic violence, particularly against women. More importantly, it brings to the table a tangible course of action for abusers and victims alike.

Under its umbrella, the initiative is introducing services provided by the General Administration for Social Protection, an affiliate of the Ministry of Labor and Social Development. Underpinning it is the strong presence of women across the board; the initiative will run under the supervision of the General Administration for Social Protection, and with the participation of female master’s students specializing in social work at the Al-Imam Mohammad bin Saud Islamic University.

In its preliminary stage, the initiative was rolled out by the General Administration for Social Protection out of Al-Imam University. This stage mostly centered on awareness and education around the administration’s and other social protection units’ roles, numbers, services and processes in the protection of and outreach to domestic violence victims.

Proof in the numbers

Seventy-one percent of Saudis agree on that domestic violence against women in the Kingdom is a reality – and 65% report that it is so at the hands of their husbands – whereas 49% believe that violence against women is a phenomenon; alarming figures that were highlighted by The National Family Safety Program’s study, titled “Domestic Violence and Child Abuse and Neglect in Saudi Arabia”, the largest study in this area in Saudi Arabia.

According to the study, 68% of people in Saudi Arabia believe in the importance of a framework enforcing the protection of women against domestic violence; a long way to go, as 97% of respondents also claim to have not received any training around issues of domestic violence and child abuse.

Another study by the program in 2017 also shows that violence against women is most prevalent in Medina (58%), followed by Al-Ahsa (39%), and distantly, by Riyadh (20%). One out of two women in Medina experience domestic violence, the study notes, and 63% of these abuse cases involved severe injuries.

Facing facts

Over the past years, Saudi Arabia has exerted many efforts in its fight against domestic violence. They were carried out by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, and initiated through a slew of programs in cooperation with charity organizations to provide victims with social services, financial and material aid, and accommodation, and the wider community with research and studies.  Slowly but surely, these efforts bore fruit, and domestic violence cases significantly dropped as a result.

It is in this context that the Ministry of Labor and Social Development established the General Administration for Social Protection, aimed primarily at raising awareness around the protection of family members against violence and abuse. The administration lends its hand and resources to children up to the age of 18, and to women of any age in their protection against all forms of physical, psychological or sexual abuse.

In tandem, the administration has set up a social welfare unit, opening lines of communication with victims via a free hotline (8001245005) to provide them with social, psychological, educational and judicial consultation in complete secrecy. Its wider responsibility entails examining the root of domestic abuse and violence in Saudi Arabia, and, accordingly, coordinating with concerned governmental and civil authorities in dealing with domestic violence cases in the Kingdom.

In addition, the unit undertakes rapid intervention measures in cases of abuse; in cooperation with the 17 protection committees distributed across the Kingdom, it immediately coordinates with relevant bodies such as Shari'a courts and police departments to address these cases when they arise.

Amicable solutions

Typically, the unit’s approach to domestic violence cases has focused on amicable resolutions for all parties involved, supporting them with social, psychological, and counseling rehabilitation sessions and programs. These sessions and programs are extended and intensified with consideration of the severity and intensity of abuse cases.

 In cases where these efforts prove unsuccessful, and when family members fail to step in with alternative solutions, the unit then takes on the provision of accommodation to victims. To this end, the unit has also set up a hotline (1919) for 24-hour violence and abuse reports, powered by a full female cadre. It is one of its many efforts to ensure real-time, rapid intervention and coordination with relevant authorities in cases of domestic abuse.

The National Family Safety Program was established to raise awareness around individual civil rights, and to lend assistance to domestic violence victims through programs and processes. Under its awareness and educational efforts, it has also built up a robust research and intelligence hub to dissect, size and tackle the root causes and solutions for the Kingdom’s domestic violence challenges.

The tough gets going

In a speech he delivered at the UN headquarters in New York in September 2017, Counsellor Khaled Al-Manzalawy asserted that Saudi Arabia is pouring great efforts into protecting family rights in general, and women’s rights in particular. He pointed to recent legislations criminalizing domestic violence by imposing severe penalties on perpetrators.

In 2013, Saudi authorities approved, for the first time, a law banning all forms of sexual and physical violence both at home and in the workplace. Penalties included a one-year jail term, and a fine of up to $ 13,000. The law also guarantees protection of domestic violence victims.

Moreover, Al-Manzalawy adds, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has allocated a special hotline to report on cases of domestic violence. The hotline is managed by field specialists, who are trained to follow up on reported cases with total confidentiality and protection of the victims’ safety and wellbeing. The ministry is also providing physical and psychological rehabilitation, as well as shelters to women who have no accommodation, to protect them against domestic violence.

In 2015, a number of Saudi Shura Council (The Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia) members called for the establishment of an independent body to deal with domestic violence cases. The absence of an executive body for domestic violence led to wastage in efforts exerted into systems for protection against abuse, said Dr. Mastura Al-Shammari, a Shura Council member; as a result, 80% of domestic violence cases were treated on a surface level. And in response, the General Administration for Social Protection was established.

Concrete success

Despite these challenges, the Saudi Human Rights Commission in May 2017 confirms that these efforts have contributed in reducing domestic violence. The lower incidence of domestic violence in Saudi Arabia has been attributed to three factors: increasing awareness among citizens, tougher regulatory frameworks, and the fear of penalties and punishment among abusers.  

The Ministry of Justice began implementing tougher measures against domestic violence as far back as 2014; court judges acknowledged the victim protection system, which was approved by the Cabinet, to criminalize domestic violence perpetrators. As a result, the number of cases brought to court in 2016 decreased to 13 cases of child abuse, 12 cases of violence against women, and 152 cases of domestic violence – in comparison, the Human Rights Commission had recorded 500 domestic violence cases in 2014.

Under its 2030 Vision to empower Saudi women, and raise awareness around their socioeconomic role and contribution, the Kingdom’s leadership is taking tough measures – and taking aim at deep-rooted sociocultural taboos and issues, at that.

Women in this article

Mastoura Al-Shammary serves as the Dean of the Prince Sattam Bin Abdulaziz University, a member of the Shura Council, and a member of the Arabic Parliament.

Add new comment