Some things can’t be covered was the first anti-domestic abuse ad to ever run in Saudi Arabia aiming to promote pending legislation to criminalize domestic abuse, April 2013 – Photo courtesy of “No More Abuse” campaign by King Khalid Foundation
CAIRO – 30 November 2017: It was not uncommon when I was growing up in Alexandria, Egypt to hear loud screams screeching the stillness of the hot summer nights, when people opened their windows to the cool Mediterranean breeze. Chilling sounds of women pleading to their husbands to stop or calling for help pierced the neighborhoods. And by sunrise, perpetrators walked freely in the streets, as if nothing had happened, while the bruised faces you met, with eyes averted, were the only proof of the heinous crime committed against these women.
Domestic violence is a disturbing phenomenon practiced by men across cultures for control and dominance. According to the UN reports, up to 70 percent of women have experienced violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. And according to the same report, it is estimated that of all women who were victims of homicide globally in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members.
No woman is immune against this abhorrent practice, regardless of her age, religion, race, education, and social or economic status. And while it is criminalized in many countries around the world, in male dominant societies, as in Egypt and other counties in the Middle East, domestic violence is an acceptable male behavior, where victims are mostly blamed for their victimization. And it is not criminalized either. Unless the violence results in the death of the victim, the issue remains a family matter that doesn’t require authorities’ intervention.
It’s shameful how the law turns a blind eye when the number of women suffering from this crime is staggering. In Egypt, as reported by Amnesty International, 47.4 percent of married, divorced, separated or widowed women reported some form of physical domestic violence. In an “opinion survey” conducted by the National Council for Women (NCW) in November 2012 that targeted a sample of 13,500 married and unmarried women, aged 15-50, across all of Egypt’s 27 governorates, a third of participants had experienced domestic violence at least once in their lifetime.
Awarded with the privileges handed to them at birth by their gender, men find no need to change. Women in societies where violence pervades are bred to obey, please and work in the relationship; take more care of the men’s needs; avoid confrontations; and become a subordinate – not an equal partner – in the relationship. As a result, no matter what the circumstances are, women believe it is their fault and accept to be punished for being a bad partner, often coming to the defense of their abusers.
Acknowledging their fault in triggering men’s aggression, women modify their attitudes and behavior, as a good wife or partner should. They avoid confrontations, for it’s their role, dictated by their society or community, to be understanding and considerate; to stay calm, accept the abuse and not answer back; not to intimidate and not to complain. And when women are punished for defying the status quo, they blame themselves and promise to be more careful next time. Unfortunately, with each incident, their voices get lower until they are eventually silenced.
Experiencing violence is traumatic and demeaning. Physical and mental abuse is humiliating. It shakes the woman’s confidence, and her self-worth dwindles. It perpetuates in silence because it is shameful to talk about. Perpetrators achieve control over the victim by breaking her emotionally and mentally. Victims become isolated, and as a result, the cycle continuous, because silence is the perfect ground for abuse to thrive.
As violence continues, women reach a state of submissiveness in accepting this abusive treatment. They justify the abuse and question their role in triggering it. This justification becomes their coping mechanism. It gives them a delusional hope that if they changed, violence would stop. In a survey reported by Amnesty International, 39 percent of Egyptian women agreed that a husband is justified in beating his wife.
According to the same report, “any trivial incident may trigger a man’s violent behavior; that included refusing sex, answering him back, burning the food, going out without telling him or neglecting the kids.”
Many victims endure years of physical, psychological, verbal and sexual abuse without seeking help because of financial dependency and fear of homelessness. And instead of breaking away from the relationship, women stay and try to make it work. But against their best judgment, the vicious cycle of domestic violence not only continues, but it escalates; and the cursing, kicking, punching and beating episodes become more frequent, severe and intense.
Men beat women because they can and because women accept it. It’s time to stand up against domestic violence and take action to put an end to this epidemic. It should not be tolerated in any shape or form, no matter what excuses are made or how many apologies are given, or even when abuse is disguised as a joke. There is nothing funny about domestic violence.
This article is a contribution by Alexandra Kinias, a screenplay writer, novelist and women’s rights advocate. Kinias is the founder of the Women of Egypt online platform, which aims to empower Egyptian women by brining into focus their issues and reviving the memory of the Egyptian suffragette movement.