JEDDAH, 7 March 2008 — Experts attending a lecture in Jeddah on Wednesday gasped in shock as Dr. Ali Al-Hanaki, director of the Social Affairs Ministry in the Western Region, spoke about the death of a young woman who was taken from a women’s shelter in Riyadh by her father and uncles, and secretly killed.
Al-Hanaki was one of a number of speakers at a seminar, entitled “Therapy of Abuse Cases and Social Adjustment.”
The event had been organized by the Social Services Department at King Abdul Aziz Medical City in Jeddah to delve on social workers and doctors’ experience in dealing with cases of abuse.
Al-Hanaki said that the woman, who was killed, came from a tribal background. Her father and uncles thought that she had brought them into disrepute by being in a state of khulwa (seclusion) with a unrelated male. The woman initially escaped and sought help with the Social Affairs Ministry in Riyadh. She was later returned to her family after they promised not to harm her.
A woman from the audience interrupted Al-Hanaki and asked why the woman was returned to her tormentors. “Her father and four uncles showed up at the center and argued that it’s shameful for them that their daughter is there. They made promises and signed papers that made it incumbent on them not to harm her,” said Al-Hanaki, adding that the woman’s relatives have not been charged.
“We received news about her death off the record. Such ‘honor killing’ crimes happen secretly and the bodies are buried in the desert. The families usually say that the women in question are traveling or have run away,” he added.
The Social Affairs Ministry chief said that women are subjected to severe violence in the rural parts of the Kingdom where tribal communities look down on women. “Women there deal with violence as one does with air pressure. They can’t do anything but put up with it,” he said, adding that raising such issues is like throwing stones into still water.
“Even if it takes us 10-15 years, we need to change their tribal attitudes toward women,” he added.
Other speakers at the event, who work closely with cases of abuse, expressed the urgent need to have a system in place that provides instant safety and comfort to victims.
“Let’s not lie to each other. We don’t have programs to deal with abuse problems. We merely have committees that work alone. We won’t solve anything unless we work collectively,” said Dr. Adel Al-Jama’an, manager of Social Services at Heraa Hospital.
Speaking about the Social Affairs Ministry’s newly set-up safety committees — bodies set up to check on abuse — Al-Jama’an listed a number of negative points. He also lamented that there is an absence of following up on victims of abuse after they leave hospital.
“After filling in the hospital form and leaving, we’re unable to know whether the person is still suffering... or whether they’re still alive,” he said.
Amal Al-Khalifa, a child behavior specialist at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital, suggested that every health center should have a section dealing with cases of abuse, regardless of whether the victim is a child or a woman. “The workers there should be given the authority to protect victims until officials become involved,” she said.