ABU DHABI // A government task force is designing a survey to provide needed and accurate figures on violence against women in Arabian Gulf societies.
Officials and statisticians from social affairs and justice departments are at a three-day workshop run by the National Bureau of Statistics, aiming for consensus on how to research the topic.
After deciding on a method they will survey women across the region and send a report to the United Nations to be compared with figures from other regions. The report should be ready by June next year.
Sufyan Al Barghouthi, an economic statistician at the bureau, said there were no accurate figures on violence against women in the GCC, and that UN guidelines for such surveys were more relevant to western societies.
"We should agree on the same definition of violence … so when we compare we know it is accurate," said Mr Al Barghouthi.
Under the UN guidelines, common regional practices such as girls marrying before they turn 18, or Sharia inheritance law, could be considered "violence".
"Definitions of violence differ as per traditions of the nation," added Abdulmalik Al Shaikh, the director of planning and development at the GCC. "In Gulf countries some girls get married at 17."
Under Sharia, a male heir receives twice as much inheritance as a female, which some westerners consider detrimental to women.
But in Arab and Muslim societies it is widely accepted on the grounds that men are obliged to be the main providers for their families, while women are not. The man who inherits must share his income, while a woman who inherits can keep it for herself.
Dr Jamila Khanji, studies and research consultant at the Family Development Foundation, said there were other trends prominent in the region that any study would need to take into account.
Dr Khanji gave the example of emotional violence, such as a husband who urges his wife to have plastic surgery. Such surgery, she said, carried risks and could even prove fatal in exceptional circumstances.
Women are not the only victims of domestic violence, argued Dr Zubayda Jassem from the Ministry of Interior. She gave the example of a man who divorced his wife after 40 years of marriage.
"When they asked him why, he said she was a perfect wife and raised the children very well, but since the day he married her she had a 'sharp tongue', and he couldn't take it any more," Dr Jassem said.
She said the case was an example of "two-way violence": the man was hurt by the constant verbal attacks, while the woman was hurt by being divorced without warning.