Violence against women behind closed doors happens everywhere. In the UAE, despite recent gains in protecting women through the courts, there are still some gaps in the system. Many victims of domestic abuse continue to find it difficult to speak up about abuse. And if they do, there aren't enough measures to ensure they are protected.
As The National reported yesterday, experts have called for a clear law with tough penalties for domestic violence to protect women against abusive husbands. Amna Al Mutawa, a case manager for the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, said that if there were tough laws in place "husbands will know their limits, know their rights".
Lawyers say women who are abused by their husbands can get a divorce by proving domestic violence. But sometimes legal issues can delay the process for months, even years, often deliberately in the hope of mending the relationship. Some women are forced to live with their abusive husbands during that period. And in the end, many cases end with a symbolic fine, as little as Dh500, which amounts to a slap on the husband's wrist.
Women's support groups have handled an increasing number of cases in recent years, which could be seen as a positive indication that more women are reporting abuse. But many more victims suffer behind closed doors, finding it difficult to come forward out of fear that their situation will get worse. Many victims worry about facing tough questions from the police or losing contact with their children or other family members.
There are other forms of abuse that go unreported, such as verbal abuse, which is far more widespread, and physical and sexual violence.
Fostering an environment in which women feel confident to speak to authorities about their abuse by family members will reduce abuse cases. Domestic violence can only be addressed when social, legal and psychological support is available for all women. Only then will more victims be encouraged to come forward and speak up.
The situation has been improving in recent years; women are becoming more aware of their rights and government services to protect women, such as shelters and reporting hotlines, have been provided. While things have come a long way, there is still a long way to go to providing protection and justice to abused women.