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GCC Countries: Time to end discrimination against women
Amnesty International is urging the governments of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to take concrete steps that will significantly improve the situation of women and eliminate violence against them in their countries.

The report GCC States: Women Deserve Better Respect and Dignity, published today, looks at violence against women in the family and the failure of the public authorities, particularly the police, to provide protection. It also looks at social and legal practices that facilitate and perpetuate violence against women, and block their escape from violence in the home. The report examines the situation of migrant domestic workers, including violence against them, the multiple forms of discrimination they face, violations by the authorities, and abuses by employers. It is the result of field research conducted in last year in GCC countries, which include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.

"Goodwill intentions remain mere words until translated into actions," said Abdel Salam Sidahmed, Middle East Programme Director for Amnesty International. "Governments must not fall short of doing what they can to bring real change in the lives of women who continue to suffer in silence in their countries."

Gender-based violence coupled with discrimination against women is common throughout the GCC countries and affects women at all stages of their lives. As young girls they are treated by their families as subordinate to their brothers. This exercise of control is manifest in restrictions on their freedom of movement and violence in the home. Many unmarried women and girls who are subjected to violence by members of their families put up with the abuse. They may see marriage as the only escape route from violence at the hands of members of their families. Some of the girls and women who choose this route continue to face violence in their new homes. If such violence becomes intolerable, their lack of economic independence or other options usually means that their only way of escaping the violence is to divorce, often on unfavourable terms, and return to their family home where they may be at risk of further violence at the hands of their relatives.

The police usually fail to act in response to complaints of violence by women. Violence against women in the family is considered a "family issue" or "normal" in GCC countries. Moreover, social norms lead police to disregard the criminal nature of such assaults against women. This attitude is one of the main reasons deterring women from reporting violence in the home. Instead of being encouraged to go to the police, women are expected to endure violence from an intimate partner for the sake of "not ruining the family".

J.A., a 27-year-old Saudi Arabian national, told Amnesty International that she had suffered severe beatings by her father since childhood. In desperation, she contemplated committing suicide when she was 14 years old. She attempted to contact the police when she was about 15 years old, but they told her that because she was a child she would be returned to her parents' home, that most girls suffer beating at home and that it is normal. She finally agreed to her family's wishes and married a much older man in order to escape the beatings at home. She told Amnesty International that she did not know that he was 20 years older than she when she agreed to the marriage, and subsequently requested a divorce. However, she had to return to her parents' home where the beating continued, this time at the hands of both her father and her brother. She said that there was nowhere she could go and live safely in Saudi Arabia, and that she was confining herself in her room in her parents' house to avoid being beaten.

"States have an obligation to ensure that their own agents do not discriminate or commit violence against women, and do not condone or acquiesce in such abuses by others," said Abdel Salam Sidahmed. "It is unacceptable for governments to leave it to the victims of violence to assert their human rights. Gender-based violence in the family is a grave violation of women’s fundamental human rights, and states have an obligation to take active measures to protect those rights."

In the GCC countries many women may be denied autonomy in choosing their marriage partner and are subjected by their families to physical violence or to restrictions on their freedom of movement when they assert their right to marry a partner of their choice. In some cases, women have been forcibly confined by their relatives for choosing a husband without their family’s permission.

Between 20 and 40 per cent of the growing number of migrants in the GCC countries are women, yet female migrant workers in domestic service in these countries are deprived of a wide range of human rights protections. They are at considerable risk of discrimination and gender-based violence, by both the state authorities and at the hands of private individuals and employers.

In its report Amnesty International calls on GCC governments to ensure that laws to protect women against violence are supported by official policy and practice, and that measures are taken to ensure their effective implementation.

"GCC countries must publicly condemn violence against women and pursue by all appropriate means policies to eliminate it," said Abdel Salam Sidahmed. "All appropriate measures must be taken to protect women from violence and discrimination, and to ensure they are treated with dignity and respect which is the right of all human beings."

Public Document
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