Emirati sheikha who helps abused women says pandemic led to more domestic violence cases

Exclusive: Sheikha Azza bint Rashid Al Nuaimi calls for public debate about an issue that every society must tackle

Several shelters across the UAE take in domestic abuse victims. They often work with judicial authorities on potential prosecutions. Courtesy: DFWAC
Several shelters across the UAE take in domestic abuse victims. They often work with judicial authorities on potential prosecutions. Courtesy: DFWAC

A UAE foundation that shelters victims of domestic abuse dealt with a rise in cases during the pandemic.

The Himaya Foundation for Woman and Child Protection, based in Ajman, handled 126 cases in 2020, up from 96 in 2019.

The foundation rescued 90 women last year, up from 55 the previous year. The women and children are citizens of a number of countries but all reside in the UAE.

In an interview with The National, its founder Sheikha Azza bint Rashid Al Nuaimi, the Ruler of Ajman's sister, urged people to speak up about the issue.

Not talking about these problems with transparency will not get them solved

Sheikha Azza bint Rashid Al Nuaimi, Himaya Foundation

“Not talking about these problems with transparency will not get them solved,” said Sheikha Azza.

Of those cases dealt with in 2020, 90 women sought shelter at Himaya – a 64 per cent increase in the number of cases.

Sheikha Azza, who is chairwoman of Himaya, said the stress of coping with new measures introduced to curb the spread of the coronavirus, along with some people losing their jobs, led to a rise in cases.

“Anxiety, tension, loss of a sense of job security and actually losing jobs during this period of time caused an increase in cases,” said Sheikha Azza.

The Himaya stats showed there was a significant increase in violence against women between January and March of last year, and again between August and October.

An anti-abuse campaign poster from the Dubai Foundation for Women And Children.
A recent anti-abuse campaign from Dubai Foundation for Women And Children

Himaya said a third of the cases involving women related to marital and family problems, including divorce and custody battles, while others related to physical and verbal abuse, financial problems, psychological disorders, children of unknown parentage and human trafficking.

The UN estimates there was a 20 per cent increase in domestic violence incidents across its 193 member states during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdowns.

It described the worldwide increase in domestic abuse as a "shadow pandemic" alongside Covid-19.

The latest WHO data shows that one in three women around the world experiences partner violence during her lifetime.

The Ajman shelter said it handled 30 cases in the first three months of this year, 25 of which involved women as victims of physical abuse, family or marital disputes, and mental disorders.

.A UAE foundation that shelters victims of domestic abuse dealt with a rise in cases during the pandemic. Credit: The Himaya Foundation for Woman and Child Protection
.A UAE foundation that shelters victims of domestic abuse dealt with a rise in cases during the pandemic. Credit: The Himaya Foundation for Woman and Child Protection

One case involved a 19-year-old Iraqi woman who was physically abused by her brother.

“Her brother physically assaulted her and kicked her out of the house and she has now been at the shelter for four months,” Sheikha Azza said.

The woman’s parents are not involved with her family situation, and she isn’t allowed to pursue education after high school or look for a job.

“She is forced to remain home to clean and do household duties and I’m afraid she will be subjected to abuse again if sent back to her family’s home,” said Sheikha Azza.

One significant case involves a 26-year-old mother of three from Pakistan, who fell to her death from a high-rise block in the emirate in January this year.

Her husband’s business was affected by Covid-19, which sparked marital problems.

Neighbours reported hearing screams from inside the couple’s apartment, but police were only alerted after the woman fell to her death.

“We found bruises and signs of physical abuse on the children’s bodies,” said Sheikha Azza.

It is suspected that the husband had been abusive to the woman and their daughters.

“He has been arrested over suspicions that he may have pushed her, but he denied this during his questioning by police,” said Sheikha Azza.

United Arab Emirates -Dubai- Sept. 14, 2009: NATIONAL: A shelter resident eats in the cafeteria at the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children in Dubai on Monday, Sept. 14, 2009. Amy Leang/The National *** Local Caption *** amy_091409_callcenter_09.jpg
The foundation takes in women and children who need shelter from abusive spouses and relatives. Amy Leang / The National

The man in his 30s told investigators he was busy looking for his ID to collect a Dh500 transfer his brother had sent him as family support due to his difficult financial situation.

“If he was saying the truth, then what is his justification for the beating marks on the little girls’ bodies which indicate they have been subjected to physical abuse?” Sheikha Azza said.

“What is his justification for the kids’ fascination of TV and toys and the non-stop eating for three days as if they didn’t have any of these things at home?”

The girls – aged two, three and five years – were sheltered and cared for by Himaya and when their father called them from prison they refused to talk to him.

“We provided them with all the support they needed then paid costs of air tickets and sent them back to their home country,” Sheikha Azza said.

What is his justification for the beating marks on the little girls’ bodies?

Sheikha Azza bint Rashid Al Nuaimi

Before Himaya opened in 2017, cases of abuse against both women and children in Ajman were dealt with through the Parents and Teachers Council under the Ruler’s Court.

Female victims of abuse were sent to a shelter Sheikha Azza personally provided and supervised.

“As cases of abuse against women were often received while we worked on children’s cases through Parents and Teachers Council, the Ministry of Interior introduced community police in Ajman to handle them,” said Sheikha Azza.

But she still felt it was essential to establish a dedicated foundation in the emirate that provides support and help for abused women and children.

Approvals from the Ajman Ruler and the Ministry of Community Development were obtained and the foundation was established in 2017.

“The foundation receives complaints from across the UAE, not only Ajman, and we try to resolve these disputes amicably without resorting to police unless necessary,” she said.

Abused women’s stay at the shelter can be extended if a solution is not secured.

Updated: May 20, 2021 04:52 PM

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