Wednesday 24 December 2008 (26 Dhul Hijjah 1429) 

      No abuse should go unpunished: HRC
      Walaa Hawari | Arab News 
      RIYADH: The women's branch of the governmental Human Rights Commission 
(HRC) will launch a yearlong media campaign to raise awareness in society about 
women's rights, it was announced here yesterday.

      "Punishment is essential in cases of violence and abuse against women," 
said Dr. Wafeeqa Al-Dakheel, supervisor to the HRC women's branch, which 
started functioning last May.

      Al-Dakheel said the women's branch is mainly concerned with introducing 
itself to society and building awareness about women's rights. 

      The organization is launching its one-year awareness campaign starting 
Monday. The campaign, similar to a high-profile one that was recently 
implemented to address inhumane treatment of domestic workers in Saudi 
households, will focus on the problem of domestic violence.

      The media awareness campaign will shed light on various forms of abuses 
and how men use their authority in a patriarchal society to justify violence 
against women. 

      The campaign, according to Al-Dakheel, will remind society of the growing 
body of law aimed at protecting women without contradicting Islamic tradition. 
The HRC has stated that one goal of this program is to rectify the problems 
that have allowed men at times to get away with horrendous acts of violence. 

      Legal and social consultations are going to be offered throughout this 
HRC campaign to enhance women's rights.

      The HRC women's branch also aims at readjusting and mending the gaps that 
allow violent criminals to go unpunished.

      One such gap is that many doctors fear reporting signs of abuse in their 
female patients to authorities out of concern of committing "tash'hir," an 
Islamic principle of violating privacy. 

      Hospitals are still not readily equipped with the so-called "rape kits" - 
medical kits that are used to collect physical evidence of sexual assault. If 
hospital examiners do not collect physical evidence of rape (such as semen or 
hair samples) or other forms of abuse (photographs and documentation of lesions 
that suggest battery) at the time they treat patients and then inform police, 
proof of abuse can be lost as the body heals. 

      This lack of protocol in collecting physical evidence could mean men who 
are accused of beating their wives or sexually assaulting family members could 
end up in a "he-said-she-said" situation in court and then be exonerated for 
lack of evidence.

      The campaign will include a number of activities and seminars covering 
such topics as the rights of divorced women, treatment of women with special 
needs, the rights of older women, the financial rights of women (such as 
protection against coercion by siblings to give up their right of inheritance, 
or preventing fathers from seizing their daughter's dowry money) and the rights 
of widows and spinsters. 

      "We in Saudi society tend to conceal our problems, which only causes them 
to get worse and turn into disasters," Al-Dakheel said. 

      She said women need to know that there are places they can go to complain 
against their abusers, but many women are geographically displaced and have no 
recourse without traveling long distances. 

      Al-Dakheel told Arab News that the women's branch of the HRC intends to 
seek the help of Saudi universities to build a database of abuse cases, their 
frequency and categories.

      "We are starting with studying the cases that are raised before us, 
categorizing them according to their nature and priorities," she said.

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