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Sunday , September 27 2020

Soroptimist Kuwait dons ‘Orange’ in bid to end violence against women

OrangeQ8 local version of global MeToo campaign

Soroptimist Kuwait marks Human Rights Day with ‘Orange Pledge’

KUWAIT CITY, Dec 11: Every year, from 25th November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, to 10th December, Human Rights Day, sixteen days of activism against gender-based violence serve to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world. Orange is the color that represents this campaign and is used as a strong visual motif worldwide.

Leading the campaign in Kuwait under the hashtags #OrangeQ8 and #Not Ok is Soroptimist Kuwait, a local NGO that is a branch of Soroptimist International, a global volunteer movement striving to improve the lives of women and girls. Comprised of around 50 remarkable Kuwaiti and expatriate professional and businesswomen, Soroptimist Kuwait focuses on action and awareness in five areas: economic empowerment, education, environment, food security and health, and ending violence against women. Soroptimist Kuwait joins the global efforts of Soroptimist International and the United Nations to eliminate violence against women and girls, and support women to speak up and take a stand against violence.

Their initiative includes raising awareness and holding informative workshops and events concerning a subject that many people would rather not talk about. They also network with other concerned groups and organisations in order to develop solutions and action plans.

According to Soroptimist Kuwait President Dr Amar Behbehani, Campaign Coordinator Zahra Al Qattan, and other members involved in the campaign, the public’s response has been prodigious, evidencing the huge need to respond to a social phenomenon that is sadly becoming ever more widespread. “Our Soroptimist Kuwait project is a local campaign corresponding with the United Nations Orange the World event,” explains Zahra. “It began as a social media campaign on our Instagram @soroptimistkuwait, designed to trigger a discussion. We were then invited to speak at Kuwait University by the Kuwait University Medical Students Association and by Dr Lubna Al Qadi from the College of Social Sciences, who was organising a seminar on the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). ”

Dr Amar is Professor of Visual Communication and Design at Kuwait University, Founder of Wellness Kuwait, and Senior Art Psychotherapist. At the CEDAW seminar she introduced the Soroptimist Kuwait campaign, provided facts and figures about violence against women in Kuwait, and held a question and answer session.

The statistics she cited were from the Attitudinal Survey on Violence Against Women in Kuwait 2018, prepared for Abolish 153 by Dr Fatima Al Salem. Dr Amar pointed out that according to the survey of 767 people in Kuwait, 51.2% have been affected by violence. “The eliminating violence against women campaign is about women and their families, men included. Controlling violence and trying to help people who are victims of violence is our duty. Living without violence is not just a woman’s right, it’s the right of humanity.”

The survey also cited statistics from the Ministry of Justice from 2000-2009, showing that the average number of reported acts of violence against women is 368 annually, meaning that there is at least one reported act of violence against women every day. No one knows how many acts of violence go unreported.

The second event took place at the College of Medicine as part of the medical students association weeklong program on domestic violence against women. Dr Nowall Al Sayegh, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy, Acting Chairperson of the Physical Therapy Department in the Faculty of Allied Health Sciences, and a Soroptimist Kuwait board member, is a physical therapist specialised in spine, pelvis, and pelvic floor rehabilitation. She gave a groundbreaking presentation on medical care for post physical and sexual abuse that had the medical students riveted. “Their main reaction was shock and surprise. They were unaware of the extent of the problem and that its victims include females and males of all ages, even children.

Secondly, they were unaware of the treatment that is possible and available in Kuwait for such victims,” Dr Nowall remarked. Dr Nowall’s daughter, Jumana Al Baghli, is in her final year of medical school at Kuwait University and is also a Soroptimist involved in the Orange Kuwait campaign. She echoed her mother’s sentiments, stating that the medical students were horrified when they learned of the high incidence of violence against women and girls in Kuwait. “It’s not something that’s really talked about much in Kuwait, due to cultural reasons, but sadly, it’s much more common than people think,” she said. “These type of events need to be held annually and medical students especially should be involved. They need to learn how to recognize the subtle signs of abuse and how to deal with it.”

In Jumana’s opinion, Orange Kuwait is kind of a local version of the global MeToo campaign, the movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault that went viral in 2017 as a hashtag on social media. “Our society is too conservative for people to come out in public and say they’ve been a victim of violence of any kind, but at least we are acknowledging that violence against women and girls takes place in Kuwait, that something has to be done about it, and that there are ways to help people who have been abused.”

Dr Nowall is currently training male and female therapists in pelvic floor rehabilitation with the aim of opening a specialised clinic at Mubarak Al Kabeer Hospital. “I will eventually move to another hospital, and then another and another, so that by the time I retire there will hopefully be enough therapists trained to deal with the affects of physical and sexual violence,” she said. “On a positive note, people are becoming more vocal about this subject and more victims are seeking help.”

Dr Amar spoke to the medical students about emotional violence and its effects on women. “We also tackled the importance of emotional wellbeing and self development to support oneself and others through violent experiences. We approached the problem step by step, detailing how to avail oneself of therapy, counseling, and support groups, and how to establish a support group system for men and women at the university level. “Many students asked questions and talked to me after the lecture, mostly about domestic violence experiences. Our help is much needed with students in schools and at the university level. It was lovely to witness the presence of the male students and their eagerness to help out,” Dr Amar reflected. “There are many people to thank for the success of the campaign, including Dr Nowall Al Sayegh, Dr Zainab Al Mesailekh, Tahera Al Awadhi, Haya Abulaban, Theresa Dommett, Patricia Al Enezi, Virginia Bastaki, Linda Graves, and of course our very energetic and hardworking Campaign Coordinator Zahra Al Qattan. Hawraa Al Maqseed did a great job designing the logo and doing all our graphics.We must also recognize the great efforts of our Soroptimist Kuwait Founding President Dr Stacey Al Ghawas, who established the Eliminating Violence Against Women committee. We are continuing the process she started,” said Dr Amar.

According to Dr Amar, Soroptimist Kuwait is establishing an Action Plan to launch a seminar for university students on the 25th of every month, in an attempt to provide assistance to some of the individuals who reached out for help, and a program with guidelines on how to support these women will be developed. More awareness needs to be raised and more action must be taken by the government in order to combat the growing phenomenon of violence against women and girls, and indeed also against boys and men.

Dr Amar stated that a safe house for female victims of violence has been established by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor but it has not yet opened its doors. On December 10th, the final day of the OrangeQ8 campaign and the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Soroptimist Kuwait announced its Orange Pledge. The pledge voices the NGO’s commitment to continue its efforts to challenge violence against women and girls in Kuwait, to support the victims of violence and their rights to protection and safety, and to help make Kuwait a safer place for all. Soroptimist Kuwait invited those committed to this cause to stand side by side for a collective photo, taken in front of the Kuwait Towers, in order to document the Orange Pledge.

By Claudia Farkas Al Rashoud
Special to the Arab Times

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