Wednesday, 24 April 2013 Laura Bashraheel Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH – The UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, referred to as the White Ribbon Day, is celebrated on Nov. 25 every year.
The universal White Ribbon campaign is adopted by more than 60 countries around the world, including Saudi Arabia.
Samar Fatany, a columnist on social and cultural issues, has initiated a White Ribbon Day in Saudi Arabia in an attempt to raise more awareness on the issue of violence against women and address the negative attitudes in society.
She said: “After I wrote that article (on abuse against women), we received a lot of supporters to launch it here locally. The campaign is to change the mindset of society starting from schools and universities to everywhere. We are trying to revive these positive chivalric attitudes of men.” The campaign aims to have champions in every sector, icons in society and activists.
“So far, what I’m doing is trying to influence the supporters,” Fatany said.
Three men launched the White Ribbon campaign 20 years ago in Canada.
Millions of men and boys, from Brazil to Pakistan, China, England, Namibia, Russia, Cambodia, the United States, Chile, Japan, Norway and Argentina have taken part in White Ribbon ceremonies and meetings to celebrate the day. An example of the campaign can be found in the United Kingdom.
Its campaign statement reads: “Violence against women happens more than you think. It’s mostly committed by men. We won’t stand for it.”
Fatany wrote in her column on April 13 that men have finally joined women activists around the world in speaking out and challenging negative traditions and the people who support its preservation.
She wrote: “Together they are calling for better laws to end the violence against millions of women who are physically and sexually abused, battered by husbands, trafficked into prostitution, and sexually harassed in workplaces and on the street each day. “The universal campaign calls for the protection of millions of women who are living in daily fear.”
She believes the issue here is the mindset. There are many foundations that have their own campaigns for violence against women such as the King Khalid Foundation, but most of these campaigns are trying to help women who are victims.
Fatany said: “We want to create male champions and make violence unacceptable in society and revive the Islamic and Arabic image of a man.”
Some prominent lawyers and Shoura Council members, like Dr. Mohammed Zulfa, are beginning to speak out against the negative attitudes against women that encourage violence against them.
Men in media such as Abdullah Al-Alami, who is supporting the campaign, and Turki Aldakheel continue to expose the perpetrators who get away with minimum or no punishments for their violent behavior.
Fatany also called on the Ministry of Education to play a more effective role by adopting a Saudi White Ribbon campaign to target schools, communities, sporting groups and the media, with the aim of educating the masses and creating a safer environment for women.
“We need more role models among men who can influence change and condemn aggressive individual attitudes against women in Saudi Arabia today.”
Al-Alami, a columnist and a supporter of White Ribbon Day campaign, responded to Fatany’s article last week to celebrate with the rest of the world on Nov. 25 and maximize the role of men in advocating respect for women.
He said: “We also aim to address women’s issues pertaining to the elimination of all discrimination and violence against women.
“This includes physical, psychological, or sexual violence as well as threats of such acts under duress.”
He also explained how society and public figures can support the campaign by encouraging the public to spread awareness about the need to eliminate violence against women through the media, civil organizations, mosques, chambers of commerce, schools and human rights organizations.
“We plan to conduct workshops for young men in schools and universities to emphasize the need to combat violence against women at home and work.
We also plan to launch a ‘Declaration of Principles’ to pledge respect to women and women’s rights, and eliminate all sort of violence against women.”
Saudi society is known for its cultural sensitivity towards such social issues, but Al-Alami said that they have considered this in the campaign.
We have received good support from well-respected religious and judicial figures and we plan to utilize this support in case of difficulties.”
Al-Alami explained how they plan to work with the Shoura Council to pass legislation to eliminate violence against women, including forced marriages of children, kidnappings and to implement strict disciplinary measures and procedures necessary to address violence in all places of employment where women work.