Manama: A Saudi doctor and activist, who was among 10 extraordinary women presented with the 2014 International Women of Courage Award, has called for the setting up of a ministry to look after women and children.
“I see there is a need for a ministry that cares for the women and the family in general,” Dr Maha Al Muneef, founder and executive director of the National Family Safety Programme in Saudi Arabia, said. “The role of women in the upbringing of children, the backbone of this country, is very significant and the marginalisation of the development role of women in any country is one of the most important impediments to progress.
“Therefore, supporting and empowering mothers and women in general and paying special attention to their social, economic, health and legal affairs have become necessary to ensure the comprehensive and sustainable development of the nation,” she said, quoted by news site Sabq on Wednesday.
Women make up half of society and they are the ones that educate the other half, she added.
Al Muneef, whose programme is the first organisation in Saudi Arabia to address domestic violence and child abuse, said that it was important for society to recognise the dimension of the issue in order to address it adequately.
“The phenomenon of domestic violence exists in different societies,” she said. “No society is expected to be without violence, regardless of its religious and social culture and the awareness level of its members; however, we can look at the increase in reported cases positively because it indicates the growing awareness about the problem and the importance of reporting them. In fact, I expect the figures to go up because more people today report abuse,” Al Muneef, a specialist in paediatric infectious diseases who has been long campaigning against domestic violence, said.
The existence of domestic violence in the community is not shameful or embarrassing, she said.
“What is terrible is to continue to ignore the problem and not to deal with it by making up excuses in order to ignore it,” she said. “Regardless of the numbers and of their genuine reflection of the reality on the ground, we should not indulge in statistical classifications. We should know that there is a problem and we must deal with it, whether the domestic violence affected one woman or hundreds of thousands of women,” she said.
The Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award annually recognises women around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment. Al Muneef was the only Arab awardee in 2014.