In 1993, the UN General Assembly issued a Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, which it defined as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”.
In Oman, women and girls are subjected to domestic violence for many reasons, including as a form of discipline or for opposing the family’s choices in regard to marriage, study or employment. Article 44 of the Omani Penal Code allows guardians to practise domestic violence on disciplinary grounds, and the Omani Centre for Human Rights (OCHR) has received numerous direct reports and complaints, backed up photographic and video evidence, of female domestic workers (housemaids) being subjected to violence and sexual harassment.
In 2018, the Ministry of Social Development published a study showing that 74% of victims of domestic violence had not found it possible to report it or to turn to government agencies for help, and only 25% had managed to bring a case against the perpetrators. Fewer than 12% had gone to the police. The study also showed that 36% of cases of domestic violence occurred after marriage.
Domestic violence is mostly carried out by husbands, followed by brothers, according to participants in the study, which covered several different forms of violence, such as beating (15%), humiliation (13%), verbal abuse (10%) and forced marriage and confinement to the home (5%). The side effects of domestic violence included depression and anxiety (16%), isolation (11%) and aversion to men (10%).
Despite the problem being widespread in Oman, government institutions are still not providing real help or support to victims of domestic violence, leaving many women in abusive homes with violent partners without the ability to get out or seek help.
What are the warning signs of domestic violence?
Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, can take many forms, including emotional, financial, sexual and physical abuse or threats of assault. Abusive relationships always involve an imbalance of power and control, where the abuser uses violent and wounding words and behaviour to control his partner. It may not be easy at first to recognise domestic abuse, but in some relationships abusive behaviour may be apparent from an early stage. Such behaviour usually starts in subtle ways that affect the victim emotionally, but eventually it undermines the victim’s self-confidence and mental health, becoming progressively worse over time.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline project in the United States, you may be in an abusive relationship if your partner:
- calls you names or constantly criticises you
- prevents or discourages you from going out to work or school or to meet family or friends
- tries to control how you spend your money, where you go, what medication you may take, or what you wear
- shows extreme jealousy or possessiveness, or constantly accuses you of cheating
- abuses you while under the influence of drink or drugs
- tries to control your choices on health matters and decisions about your own body
- threatens you with violence or a weapon
- hits, kicks, pushes, slaps or chokes you, your children or your pets
- pressures you to have sex or perform sexual acts against your will
- blames you for his abusive behaviour or tells you you deserve it
- threatens to tell friends, family, work colleagues or community members about your sexual orientation or gender identity
Domestic violence in the context of pregnancy and children
Sometimes domestic violence first occurs, or increases, during pregnancy, endangering your health and that of your child, and continues after the child is born. Even if your child does not suffer any ill-treatment, simply witnessing domestic violence can be harmful for them; children who grow up in abusive homes are more vulnerable to bullying and behavioural problems than other children. As adults, these children are likely to become abusers themselves, or to think that abuse is a natural part of relationships.
The Omani Centre for Human Rights calls on the Omani government to provide a free, secure, 24/7 year-round domestic violence hotline, and to work on providing the basic tools and support to help domestic violence survivors in a number of critical ways:
- The hotline must put victims in contact with psychological and legal counsellors and other experts to offer psychological support and provide basic information.
- Hotlines must also provide a way to get callers into refuges and crisis centres at any time of night or day, as well as access to other institutions like the police and lawyers if necessary to help victims get restraining orders on their abusers that will make them stay away from them or face arrest.
- The hotline must have counsellors available who speak Arabic and the other main languages spoken in Oman, and if necessary provide simultaneous translators, as well as having a dedicated line for deaf callers using teletype.
- Hotlines must always undertake to conceal the caller’s identity and not require them to give their own name or that of their abuser or the person calling on their behalf.
- The hotline counsellor must be able to help the caller draw up a safe escape plan, and, if the caller, male or female, is in a situation where the safest route is not to leave the home, the counsellor must know how to direct them to the best course of action, and answer all the caller’s questions in such a way as to protect them from any possible danger.
- The hotline must help callers know how to get financial support for themselves and their children if they need it, as some women have financial problems that make it hard to leave abusive partners.