Experts aim for debate on domestic violence

People with gender disorders are also vulnerable and at risk - and they can go undetected, a doctor warns

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DUBAI // More discussions on domestic violence are needed at the community level to try to combat the problem and encourage victims to come forward, experts said yesterday on the final day of a workshop. The two-day seminar, which brought together experts and social workers from schools and universities, concluded with a series of recommendations which will drive their future work.

Among the 26 recommendations was the need for community forums to focus on and raise public awareness of domestic violence. "This workshop was just the first approach from our side, and is just the start. "We were trying to reach those social workers who can intervene to help," said Afra al Basti, chief executive of the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, which organised the event. "After Ramadan we would like to organise more community-based workshops."

Going into communities and addressing the issue in an open forum will assist in encouraging victims and those who may know of people who are being abused to seek help. Speaking more openly may also discourage people from resorting to violence in the first place, participants said. The recommendations also included calls to enforce laws to protect women and children, as well as the need to place health and social workers within communities to help the victims of domestic violence and also to raise awareness.

More education is also needed so that young people have realistic expectations before they get married or become parents. Teachers and others working with young people should also be more aware about signs which may reveal that a student is being abused or suffering from identity issues, the participants recommended. Yesterday's session featured discussions led by Dr Tariq al Habib, a Saudi Arabian psychiatrist, and Dr Souad al Marzooqi, who said that increasing instances of domestic violence, including child abuse, could be put down in part to the rapidly changing society.

"People need to understand their children more and stop violence in this society," she said. Workshop participants also discussed gender issues and how professionals working directly with young people can detect and help those struggling with their identity. Dr al Marzooqi, an assistant professor at the department of psychology at UAE University, also spoke about the need to work to support people with gender identity disorder.

This is something which often goes undetected. "These people are very vulnerable and at risk," she said. "In our culture, people are not educated enough about gender identity disorder." Too often, people who are seen adopting the appearance or behavioural traits of the opposite sex are victimised and even abused, said Dr al Marzooqi. Some are simply experimenting with their identity, while others may have genuine physiological issues.

"Many of these people are confused and don't know who to go to and their families don't know what to do," she said. "These kinds of workshops are so important so that the social workers know about these issues so that they can spot when someone needs help." Dr al Marzooqi said she had come across extreme cases in the UAE in which individuals had opted to undergo sex-change operations outside the country, and she had worked to counsel them and their families.

Dr al Habib spoke about engaging in more open discussions about sexuality with young people, to prevent distorted views from developing. Speaking on the first day of the seminar, Dr Fadwa al Mugairbi, from UAE University, said there was often a great deal of confusion surrounding gender-related conditions. "People in this case are deprived their basic rights because for example their body may not match their chromosomal map," she said.

"Why don't we deal with them and help them, rather than label them?" Other experts speaking on the previous day said that while domestic violence extends to every emirate, studies are being planned to determine how widespread the problem really is.