First Anti-Domestic Violence Campaigns From Saudi Arabia

“Treat her like a queen, not a punching bag.”

“He who hits a woman is a coward.”

These are some of the tweets featured in a recent social media campaign from Saudi Arabia.

In an effort to call attention to the country’s alarming rates of domestic violence, young people of Saudi Arabia have been asked to tweet powerful images and words to the perhaps not-so-aptly named Twitter feed #HitHer.

The hashtag is intended to dare young men and women to “hit her” with messages that discourage Saudi men from literally hitting her, but the name has caused some confusion in the Twittersphere. While the Twitter feed does include tweets such as ones above, it also displays a fair number of off-topic tweets from outside of the campaign, which makes the conversation appear somewhat unfocused and hard to track. The name also just sounds more abusive than anti-abusive, notes one Twitter user: #HitHer is “a good cause” with “a very misleading title.”

Others critique the campaign’s focus on men, arguing the ineffectiveness of raising the awareness of abusers rather than providing support for abuse victims. Writes Facebook user Af’af Super-Nobody,

Raising awareness is for the victim, not the aggressor … Raise awareness among women who are victims of violence because they fear reporting incidents. [In Saudi Arabia, victims fear] reporting on offenders because they might arrest her instead.

Regardless, the #HitHer campaign has gained many participants, as well as positive responses, mostly from men.

Organized by a group of young Saudis with sponsorship from the Jeddah-based music management agency, Libra Productions, #HitHer was inspired by the Arab state’s first anti-domestic violence campaign, which made headlines just last month. Saudi Arabia’s King Khalid Foundation ran an ad with the following image in national newspapers:

The Arabic message roughly translates to “the tip of the iceberg.”

The website for that campaign, “No More Abuse,” provides emergency resources for victims and encourages them to report abuse to the authorities. These resources are unusual and greatly needed in Saudi Arabia, a country whose strict treatment of women forbids them from leaving home without a male guardian, participating in social activities or driving alone. Saudi even has a tracking system that alerts a man via text if his wife has left the country.

Domestic abuse reports are also included on the “No More Abuse” site. According to Saudi Arabia’s State Department, 16 to 50 percent of Saudi wives have survived abuse, but the numbers might be even higher because of under-reporting.

While these campaigns challenge the cultural norm of abuse in Saudi Arabia and have certainly sparked important discussion, some question whether they can actually be effective in eradicating the abuse of Saudi women, especially in light of the country’s extreme censorship. As both campaigns were spread largely through the Internet, which is heavily censored in Saudi Arabia, it’s difficult to estimate how many Saudi women have seen these images.

But even if they have, it might not be enough for them to take action. Carmen Rios of PolicyMic argues that there is little to celebrate until the law protects Saudi women who choose to report abuse. Says Rios,

Women face social ostracization for reporting these crimes, and often it can endanger their lives. If there are no pre-existing legal protections [that are put in place] for them, how can these resources impact their lives? If there are no legal structures in place to put offenders into jail or rehabilitation programs, how can these resources change their behavior?

For now, however, these messages have the potential to influence Saudi Arabia’s perspective on violence against women, and may even help save a life. Hopefully these campaigns are among the first of many steps towards the protection and liberation of Saudi women.

#HitHer campaign photo from Al Jazeera; No More Abuse ad from King Khalid Foundation