Saudi women find refuge from domestic violence

Thu Nov 20, 2008 5:33am EST
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By Asma Alsharif

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - Shattered, burned and bruised, Azza went to the police four times before the authorities allowed her to leave her abusive husband and move into a shelter.

In their 12 years together, her Saudi husband had beaten her with metal rods, chained her up and poured boiling water on her.

But police usually sent her back home after her husband signed a pledge to stop mistreating his wife, standard practice in a country where women need consent for anything from getting a job to renting an apartment.

"When I went back home the beatings gradually got worse," said Azza, now divorced and living in the recently-opened Abdulaziz Shelter in Jeddah. "The violence escalated even more and he started chaining me so that I could not run away. He blocked all the windows."

She finally escaped four years ago through the bathroom window, though she broke bones in her pelvis in the process. She obtained a divorce on grounds her husband was schizophrenic.

Domestic violence came dramatically into the media spotlight in 2004 when TV presenter Rania al-Baz went public over a savage beating from her husband in which she suffered 13 facial fractures, leading to divorce at her instigation.

The deeply conservative country, ruled by an austere version of Islamic law, has opened up since the September 11 attacks of 2001, where 15 of the 19 attackers were Saudis.

Partly as a result of pressure from Western governments, an official human rights body was set up in 2004 to deal with the country's poor reputation for respecting human rights.   Continued...

<p>Saudi doctor Sara Abbar speaks to Reuters in Jeddah November 19, 2008. REUTERS/Asma Alsharif</p>