Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why Aren’t Women To Blame For Domestic Violence In Saudi Arabia?

At a domestic violence seminar Hamad Al-Razine, a Saudi judge is reported to have said the following:

"if a person gives SR 1,200 [$320] to his wife and she spends 900 riyals [$240] to purchase an abaya [the black cover that women in Saudi Arabia must wear] from a brand shop and if her husband slaps her on the face as a reaction to her action, she deserves that punishment."

image Isn’t it ironic that a woman can be punished for spending too much money on a garment that they are forced to wear to authenticate their status as secondary citizens in a patriarchal society.  According to the article at CNN domestic violence is not an issue openly discussed in Saudi society and yet the first attempts involve blaming the victim.

Arab News reported that Al-Razine made his remark as he was attempting to explain why incidents of domestic violence had increased in Saudi Arabia. He said that women and men shared responsibility, but added that "nobody puts even a fraction of blame" on women, the newspaper said.

Al-Razine "also pointed out that women's indecent behaviour and use of offensive words against their husbands were some of the reasons for domestic violence in the country," it added.

Blaming the victim is a standard approach taken by patriarchy.  When these incidents are reported in the press they have a tendency to take on the tone of “look what the evil brown men are doing to the poor victimized brown women” and yet when we look within western culture, we can see the same behaviour repeated.  How many times have we questioned why the abused wife did not leave or why she returned to her spouse? (think Rihianna people).  How many times have we questioned what a rape victim was wearing or why she was in that specific location when the rape occurred?  This happens on a daily basis.

The issue with this kind of reporting is that by not discussing patriarchy as a global force it necessarily presents domestic abuse as something that only the unenlightened (read: savage) brown people do.  There is not a single country on the planet that women are safe from male violence.   It is further problematic to continually portray Middle Eastern women as the eternal victim when they have acted and continued to act with agency in their own defence.  The fact of the matter is that if they are not presented as weak and incapable, what justification would western countries have for the continual invasion of their lands?

In the name of helping women, we have deteriorated the standard of living in Iraq.  We have so impoverished some families that women are being forced into or sold into slavery in Turkey.  If part of the goal in the continued occupation of Afghanistan is the improvement in the lives of women, why do they continue to live in poverty, forced to beg on the streets for money to live on?  Why was a woman recently flogged by the Taliban? We don’t feel true outrage or desire to help, we seek only to claim moral authority for the sake of geo political position. 

Governments play upon Islamophobia and racism to divide us from our sisters in the struggle and perpetuate the lie that we have it so much better. How many times have western women complained about sexism only to be told that we should be thankful we don’t live in the middle East?  It will not be better until no women globally live with the threat of violence.  It will not be better until no children grow up seeing their mother beaten and abused at the whim of any man, be he western or middle eastern.

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