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Beating domestic violence in Bahrain
A large number of women are abused in the country, say activists, but measures are now being taken to fight the issue.
March 12, 2009 4:07 by Aarti Nagraj
Bahrain has achieved a regional first by launching a special petition for men to pledge that they will fight domestic violence, reports Arab News. The petition is backed by UN agencies in Bahrain, and has been signed by government heads and activists.
“It is good to see more men signing this petition, which calls to unite and fight against domestic violence. We need to push this campaign at all levels,” Amal Al Jowder, head of health education at the Ministry of Health told the paper.
According to a recent survey conducted by Bahrain Women’s Union, 91 percent of Bahraini mothers filing for divorce have been physically abused by their husbands. According to the study, 2,165 women out of 2,391 surveyed had been abused after bearing children.
Mariam Al Ruwaie, the president of the Union told Gulf Daily News that article 353 of Bahrain’s penal code stipulates that whoever rapes or has illegitimate sex with a woman will not be punished if the situation is corrected by marriage. Such laws allow abusers to get away with their crimes, she added.
Media reports say that activists across the country are now calling for a law that criminalizes domestic violence, and imposes stricter punishments for violators.
Other steps are also being taken to address the problem; in February this year, Bahrain’s Health Ministry officials distributed guidelines to hospitals and health centers to help health workers identify potential abuse cases. The guidelines describe what abuse is, the role of healthcare providers, and include instructions on how to treat abused women. Health workers are also advised when to refer their cases to the proper facility, such as a shelter or psychiatric department.
“Using these guidelines, the physician can ask how is the relationship with her husband and children and then ask if there is any abuse – physical or mental,” Health Ministry Maternal and Child Health Services head Fahima Al Mutawa told Gulf Daily News.
“If the society is brought up thinking that abuse is normal, that the man is the leader and that even minor abuse is normal, then we need to bring these people (religious) in to change this mentality because abuse is not accepted in any religion,” she added.
The ministry also distributed brochures detailing where abused women can go for help, and promised to launch a booklet for women on how to avoid abuse and what to do if they are abused.
While these initiatives are steps in the right direction, Bahrain will need to do more to tackle domestic violence in the country successfully.