Connect to share and comment

Saudi princess speaks out on abuse

A strong voice is being heard on the issue of domestic violence, and it's not only female but royal.

A Saudi woman with a falcon in the capital, Riyadh, April 24, 2009. Saudis are seeing women becoming more visible and vocal on issues. Recently, the king's daughter, Princess Adela bint Abdullah, spoke out strongly against domestic violence. (Fahad Shadeed/Reuters)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — On a recent Saturday morning about a hundred Saudis gathered in a hotel conference room, men on one side of a screen and women on the other. They had convened to measure progress over the past year in tackling a problem new to public discourse in this country: domestic violence against wives and children.

The group comprised judges, policemen, physicians, human rights workers and officials from government departments such as justice, health and social affairs. Among them was the woman who perhaps has done most to bring domestic violence out of the closet and into the Saudi sunshine: Princess Adela bint Abdullah, a daughter of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.

It is not unusual for Saudi royal princesses to lend their support and influence to worthy causes in a low profile manner. But Princess Adela seems intent on breaking the mold: She has not only involved herself in a highly controversial issue, she has taken an active public role in raising awareness about the problem.

“She’s different in her awareness of the role that royals could play in public life,” said Fawziah al-Bakr, a women’s activist and professor at King Saud University. “If you hear of any program to help women and children, you will find Princess Adela there.”

During the workshop, Princess Adela sat with the other women to discuss the progress made since March 2008, when the country’s first public debate on domestic abuse was held — with the princess as keynote speaker.

A few hours later, she joined two Saudi physicians active in the battle against domestic abuse to hold a press conference.

It is rare for a female member of the royal family, no less the king’s daughter, to take questions from the press.

“The biggest achievement” of the past year, the princess said, had been the increased coordination of all government ministries “to stop the phenomenon of family violence. Now we have partners in all sectors and that is an achievement.”

But this coordination needs improvement, she added, suggesting the establishment of a new government agency dedicated to family concerns.