It’s shocking to think that in parts of the world today, laws criminalizing domestic and sexual violence still may not exist. Or in other cases, they are being rolled back (Russia) or only just recently being introduced for the first time. In other countries such as Pakistan, laws against domestic violence may exist, but they are vague or not enforced by authorities which means victims are just as vulnerable as those who live in places where the laws don’t exist.
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia passed a law in 2013 outlawing domestic violence for the first time, which was quite momentous for a country known for its lack of women’s rights. In August 2015, the Kingdom of Bahrain also passed its own law stating violence against women is a crime. The the king ratified the Law on Protection from Family Violence, which for the first time provides measures to protect individuals from domestic violence, including requiring authorities to investigate and assist domestic violence victims, and allows public prosecutors to issue temporary protection orders for victims, reported Human Rights Watch.
In November of the same year, Supreme Council for Women announced the launch of a National Strategy for the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence. This is not the only area where Bahrain has been seen a leader in the promotion of gender equality and protecting women’s rights. Since 1973, their penal code has criminalized rape and sexual assault long before other Gulf nations.
The key to ensuring laws are followed and implemented to their full extent lies with local authorities and the courts, but there is also a lot of ground work that gets covered by social organizations and programs who help women know their rights and get the help they need. An organization called World Crisis Care International is said to be the first crisis intervention program in Bahrain since domestic violence was criminalized, and The Establishment recently went behind the scenes to find out what they are doing to change the status quo for victims.
Reporter Natasha Burge, who is based out of the Arabian Gulf, shared how WCCI has so far helped more than 150 domestic and sexual violence survivors since launching in January of 2016, and have created a number of social awareness campaigns that allow more people to know who they are and what they do.
WCCI was founded by an American woman, Mary-Justine Todd, who has a background in women’s public health and has worked in New York, as well as in refugee camps in both East and West Africa. She has been in Bahrain since 2013 and saw an opportunity to launch a 24/7 program which hadn’t existed before.
“Public health research tells us that the most predictive factor for how well a woman will recover from a traumatic event is how well she is treated afterward. We also know that the majority of women won’t seek help as time goes on in the weeks or months following a trauma, so we have a very small window of opportunity to access the survivors and affect a positive change toward recovery. Immediate care within 24 hours is the most effective way to prevent the development of PTSD,” Mary-Justine told The Establishment.
The organization has advocates who meet with the victims in crisis wherever they are and ensure they have the support they need not just after the initial contact, but in their continual journey of recovery and stability. There are three main components of their work, according to the website: crisis advocacy, case management, and community awareness.
WCCI helps break down societal stigma around domestic violence which can play a role in preventing women from speaking out or seeking help, thinking they are to blame somehow. It is indeed a complex issue that doesn’t get eliminated through a one-size-fits-all approach. The advocates, who are volunteers from around the world, speak at schools, clubs and medical centers through outreach efforts to reduce the shame that can be associated with domestic and sexual violence, while also educating communities how this is an issue that can affect anyone, no matter what your socio-economic status is.
“There are a lot of myths about domestic violence. People tend to believe it is something that only happens elsewhere, never in their own community. Or they think it only happens to uneducated or low-income women. But the truth is domestic violence happens to women from all walks of life,” said Georgie, one of the WCCI advocates.
Fostering a community of support is key to helping victims and survivors stay away from their abusers, so WCCI also offers ESL classes, art and writing workshops.
Mary-Justine hopes to take the crisis program into other countries in the region as she has clearly seen first-hand the value and impact it can have.
“Half the world’s population is women and one third of all women will experience abuse at some point in their life. They deserve to have support. And while the majority of law and policymakers around the world are men, women and all feminists have to stick together to support each other and ensure that support is available when needed,” she said.
According to the UN, more than 600 million women live in nations where domestic violence is not yet criminalized, so on a policy level there is still a long way to go. Local organizations doing the groundwork, like WCCI, are a crucial component of the equation to eliminate sexual and domestic violence, because they have the ability to tackle social and cultural norms in a way laws cannot. This is not just a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue.