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When did you stop beating your wife?

The old Catch-22 thing where interviewers sometimes try to trap their interviewees with a loaded question that leads to two equally unpalatable answers – in this example, either (1) I haven’t stopped, or (2) I have stopped – comes to mind today with those reports from the United Arab Emirates about permissable wife-beating.

A court in Sharjah, one of the UAE’s seven emirates, has reportedly ruled that a husband can “discipline” his wife or children using physical force as long as visible injuries like bruises are not left on the victim.

The court claims to be interpreting Sharia legal codes but as the Guardian’s report indicates, Islamic jurisprudence is far from settled on this and Islamic scholars themselves differ over it.

Let’s be clear though: domestic violence is never acceptable, whether or not supposedly “authorised” by religious doctrine or court rulings.

Ah, but that’s the Middle East, some will say. What can you expect when it comes to women’s rights? To be sure, Amnesty has reported on how discrimination is virtually endemic in the region and there’s unquestionably a real problem over women’s rights in countries right across the Gulf and the wider region.

But I’d argue that it’s easy to be complacent about “the West” or the UK in comparison. Britain’s record on domestic violence is nothing to shout about.  As this snippet from the London Review of Books suggests, a lot of domestic violence in Britain – as opposed to the Middle East – is alcohol-related. Simply, men get lashed and then lash out at their girlfriends, wives or children.

Meanwhile rape and other serious sexual violence are occurring on a vast scale in Britain. Last night, for instance, Channel Four News ran a special report on how sexual predators in the UK’s armed forces appear to be getting away with rape and other crimes because of the gross inadequacy of the way the military police investigate (or basically don’t investigate) allegations made by women in the services or members of the public who come into contact with off-duty service personnel. The situation in the services is worse than in the country as a whole, but failings there are mirrored nationally as groups like the End Violence Against Women campaign and Rape Crisis have long said. 

So, my answer to that hypothetical wife-beating question? I’m not married and I never even started.

Actually the existence of this question – even the jokiness of it – masks the hidden truth that complacency about violence against women is not confined to places like the United Arab Emirates. It’s here with us as well.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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