A campaign using the hashtag #Break_Your_Silence_Speak_Up has been started to encourage Saudi women to expose examples of harassment, rape, physical abuse and suppression against them.
While abuse against women is naturally shocking, the women have explained, the fact that it continues to happen in a conservative Muslim society is even more shocking.
One woman revealed that she was raped by her father for three years and when her mother learnt of the abuse, she locked her up inside the house for a full year. She pointed out that she now has to be treated for depression because of what happened to her.
Sarah said that her brother has sexually molested her while her father slapped her. “I was eight years old,” she said. “He taught me how to shut up every time I was molested.”
One women said that when she got home from school late because of heavy traffic, her father hit her and ordered her to change her schedule or he would prevent her from studying.
Such treatment is commonplace, it seems, and extends to professionals as well. “My brother threatened my sister, who is a physician, to prevent her from working because she wanted to attend a conference in Kuwait,” said Rahaf Al-Otaibi. Moreover, some women have been parted from their children by “influential” men in their family. “I cannot describe the pain of losing my children,” said one.
Just the threat or possibility of violence is enough to cause psychological pain, one woman tweeted. “I may have not been exposed to physical or verbal violence but I suffer from psychological violence every day because my life could turn upside down if someone wishes.”
While the women have been accused of lying, or been told that they should be more discreet, they have the support of human rights organisations. They often criticise Saudi Arabia over its human rights record, especially regarding women’s rights.
Amnesty International paid tribute to Saudi women last Thursday on International Women’s Human Rights Defenders’ Day.