Women are urged to reject domestic abuse

Young women were encouraged to break the cycle of domestic violence and abuse in a forum about female empowerment

DUBAI // A shelter for abused women in Dubai dealt with almost 150 cases of domestic violence last year, and 84 divorce cases were filed in the Dubai courts as a result of physical, sexual or psychological abuse of wives.

The figures were revealed during a debate on female empowerment at Zayed University yesterday, ahead of International Women's Day today."There are different forms of abuse and women need to recognise them," said Dr Mona al Bahar, the deputy chief executive of care and community services at the shelter, the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (DFWC), which hosted the event. "Abuse can be verbal, physical and psychological. No woman should be subject to this kind of treatment that puts her life in danger."

Common forms of domestic abuse include husbands who use money as a form of control, those who withhold affection or threaten to remarry and men who force their wives into intercourse, experts said.

"Under no circumstances is this acceptable," Dr al Bahar said. "And the first step to empowering women is making them aware of this dangerous behaviour."

“Marriage is all about contribution, whether it’s emotional, financial or social. But it must never be forced,” she said.

Empowerment is a comprehensive system, Dr al Bahar said. “It is the combination of different elements such as health, educational, social and financial support. And they all must work together.”

Dr Hessa Lootah, an associate professor at the college of humanities and social sciences at United Arab Emirates University, said every woman painted a picture of how she envisioned herself.

“We all live based on images we form in our minds,” she said. “And most of the time, these images do not match reality – which is part of the problem.”

Dr Lootah said superficial media images of what was considered beautiful or attractive gave women misguided aspirations. “In order to truly be empowered, a woman must accept herself for who she is and stop trying to be someone else,” she said. “She must ask herself what would make her happy and when she finds the answer, strive for it.”

Students gave examples of parents or other family members preventing young women from achieving their goals, but Dr Lootah said that was a challenge and an opportunity for a woman to demonstrate her commitment and strength. “Where there is a will, there is a way,” she said. “It just takes patience.

“When I was younger, my family wouldn’t let me go alone to the book store, so I found someone who could deliver the books to me. That is where I started and, step by step, I reached my aspirations. It may take time, but as long as we stay focused, our ambitions will eventually become reality.”

Once a woman proves herself, a new-found respect for her capabilities will open many doors, Dr al Bahar said.

“We always tend to look inside-out at the world around us,” she said. “But we rarely look outside-in because we are afraid of what we’ll see. Only by confronting her inner self can a woman truly be empowered and find happiness.”

The DFWC was established in 2007 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to provide shelter and support for women and children who are victims of domestic violence, child abuse and human trafficking.