Saudi social media users break silence on violence against women

Saudi women found an innovative way to break their silence and expose stories of harassment, rape and physical abuse they face often on a daily basis.

The hashtag #Break_Your_Silence_Speak_Up went viral among Saudi women who started sharing their bitter stories that often go untold.

One woman said that she has been locked up for a year inside the house after her mother learned that her father had raped her over three years. She now needs to be treated for depression as a result of the psychological damage she endured.

Another woman named Sarah spoke up against her brother’s sexual harassment with the knowledge of the father who, in return, slapped her in the face. “I was 8 years old,” she said. “He taught me how to shut up every time I was molested.”

The fact that such abuse continues to happen in a conservative Muslim society is shocking, the women wrote under the trending hashtag.

Along with sexual harassment, physical and verbal abuse takes place daily, according to some women.

Statistics released in 2016 show the continuous exposure of a large number of Saudi women to violence, despite a domestic violence awarencess campaign launched in 2013 and a subsequent law criminalyzing domestic abuse.

Research has shown that 37 percent of husbands in Saudi Arabia oppress their wives and children, in addition to depriving women of seeing their family.

Mashael Al-Bakri, a Saudi researcher, said in an interview with Al-Hayat newspaper one of the Saudi centers for domestic abuse victims that suppression of the wife or children and forbidding them from expressing their issues freely is prevalent and a form of psychological violence.

An estimated 53 percent of men in 2016 are willing to use violence against their wives in case of disobedience, where 32 percent have already used physical abuse against their wives, according to a study conducted by researcher Norah Al-Musaed.

The study also reported that 36 percent of the women expressed their acceptance of violence against them in case of misbehavior. Social media confirm that abuse is commonplace.

A college student said her father hit her after she failed to get home on time due to heavy traffic, and he threatened to deprive her of college if she does not change her schedule.

Professionals are also subjected to such treatment by their male guardians.

“My brother threatened my sister, who is a physician, to prevent her from working because she wanted to attend a conference in Kuwait,” said Rahaf Al-Otaibi.

The abuse extends in some cases to depriving a woman of her own children. “I cannot describe the pain of losing my children,” said another woman.

Violence against women can take many forms, not only physical or verbal. Psychological pain can result from constant threats or possibility of violence, one woman tweeted. “I may not have been exposed to physical or verbal violence but I suffer from psychological violence every day because my life could turn upside down if someone wishes.”

#Break_Your_Silence_Speak_Up has been trending along with the hashtag that calls for the abolition of the male guardianship system, which reached day 220 of fighting.

“Don’t back down from demanding your rights if you believe in justice,” tweeted (@MARIAM_AL3TEEBE) who is an outspoken justice activist with 21,000 followers. She urged her Saudi sisters to demand their rights and not to be ashamed as long as they are protesting peacefully.

Meanwhile, the women’s campaign to expose the forms of harassment against them was faced with rejection and accusations of lying. However, despite the attacks by some deniers, those women have the support of several international human rights organizations.

Amnesty International paid tribute to Saudi women last Thursday on International Women’s Human Rights Defenders’ Day.

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