December 10 marks the end of the 16-days of activism against gender based violence, a yearly-global movement led by UN Women and carried out by Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and activists across the world.
Soroptimist, a local Kuwaiti NGO focused on enabling, educating and empowering women, partook in the full 16 days, by holding discussions with stakeholders, raising awareness through data collection and partnering with local businesses, as well as the government to end violence against women.
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“November 25 is the international day for the elimination of violence against women and then December 10 is human rights day, so the 16 days is a journey for human rights because women are human,” Dr Amar Behbehani, past president of Soroptimist and professor at Kuwait University.
Since 2016, Orange Kuwait, a project run by Soroptimist, has been joining the global movement as it is part of their eliminating violence against women (EVAW) program.
As an art psychotherapist as well, Behbehani explained that the color orange, a mixture of yellow and red, represents survivors of domestic violence as they, “have the power that comes from danger [associated with red] but they also have the spark of energy to survive [associated with yellow].”
Thus the color orange is central to the campaign and so 22 iconic buildings and landmarks were illuminated in orange, as part of this year’s program, to highlight the issue across Kuwait.
Safe space for survivors
In an effort to gauge the extent of domestic violence cases in Kuwait and monitor any changes in behavior, every year Orange Kuwait runs a survey for about two-months to understand what the Kuwaiti public thinks about domestic violence, how many have been affected and what is the most prevalent form of violence.
Of those that participated in last year’s survey, 82.16 considered that violence is a phenomenon in Kuwait. With that being said, of the 62.91 per cent of those that stated they have experienced abuse, 83.5 per cent of them are women.
Although domestic violence happens to both men and women, most cases that occur happen to women, with the UN estimating that around one in three women worldwide experienced some form of violence.
“We must not look at domestic violence cases as single events, rather they are part of a combination of factors from intergenerational trauma to mental health issues and misconceptions about gender roles,” Hasnaa Mokhtar, a PhD candidate at Clark University researching gender based violence in Kuwait and the Arab world, told Gulf News.
Last year’s survey also revealed that 97.18 per cent believe that it is crucial to establish a shelter for victims of violence.
Since then, Kuwait passed a domestic violence law that protects the whole family, but also includes providing legal, medical and rehabilitative resources to domestic violence victims, of which is establishing shelters.
Behbehani pointed out that, “shelters are important, but at the same time it is not enough. Survivors of domestic violence need rehabilitation for about 16 months and need help getting past the trauma.”
Different forms of abuse
There are several forms of abuse that range from physical and psychological abuse to financial and verbal abuse. The survey revealed that the most common form of abuse in Kuwait is verbal abuse, followed by physical abuse, then emotional abuse and lastly financial abuse.
Another study, conducted by Dr Fatima Al Salem in 2018, found that 73.5 per cent of the survey takers viewed that if a man screams at his wife it is considered as a form of violence.
Mokhtar pointed out that while there are different forms of violence, “at the end of it it all boils down to the same problem: a systematic pattern of behavior from an abusive person to gain and maintain power and control over another.”
Al Salem’s study also reveled that majority of violence against women happens more to women from cultures that value traditional roles of women and men.
“One of the problems particular in Kuwait, as well as the rest of the world, is that there is this misconception that domestic violence occurs mainly in poorer communities. Therefore, we need to look at this issue in an intersectional manner, to understand the different segments of society and not have a general message or solution that is expected to be communicated with everybody,” Mokhtar said.
Effect of COVID-19 on domestic violence
A surge in domestic violence cases have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting the UN to describe the increase as a ‘shadow pandemic’.
Behbehani mentioned that, “I think that we see an increase in cases because of an increase in reporting. Many were stuck at home were their abusers so they were more inclined to seek help.”
A report by Human Rights Watch explains how crises and lockdowns could trigger an increase in domestic violence as a result of factors like stress, cramped and difficult living conditions, and breakdown in community report systems.