NINETY-ONE per cent of Bahraini mothers filing for divorce have been physically abused by their husbands, a survey has revealed.
According to the study, 2,165 women out of 2,391 surveyed had been abused after bearing children, while after marriage and before pregnancy it was 152 (6pc) and during the engagement period it was 74 (3pc).
Bahrain Women's Union president Mariam Al Ruwaie said the survey showed there was a strong link between violence against women and personal status.
She called upon the authorities of Bahrain to toughen up the country's laws against those who commit violence against women.
The rights activist pointed out that article 353 of Bahrain's penal code stipulated that whoever raped or had illegitimate sex with a woman would not be punished if the situation was corrected by marriage.
However, she said, such laws allowed abusers to get away with their crimes.
"There is an urgent need to find a legal platform that criminalises abuse," said Ms Al Ruwaie.
"We need to pass a protection against family violence law that has already been presented to parliament, and we need to amend the penal code for stricter punishments."
The survey was conducted by the union at 13 family council centres and law offices in Bahrain.
It revealed that violence against women was ethically and socially acceptable.
It found that in 623 (19pc) cases recorded at the centres and law offices, the wife continued to suffer without getting a divorce while her case remained in the court.
The survey revealed that in such cases 40pc dragged on for less than a year, 32pc for five to eight years, and 2pc for eight to 10 years.
Out of 247 cases filed, 110 (45pc) women were still waiting for a divorce after a year or less. While 102 women (41pc) were still waiting for a divorce after one to three years, and 10 (4pc) after eight to 10 years.
The main reason women asked to be separated from their husbands was in 27pc of cases due to his immoral behaviour.
While in 23pc of cases it was because the husband failed to take proper financial responsibility for his wife and children.
Other reasons were that the woman's husband was psychologically ill or had abandoned her.
Ms Al Ruwaie presented the results of the survey at the United Nations celebration to mark International Women's Day.
The event was held at the Cultural Hall, near the Bahrain National Museum, yesterday and was attended by government officials and representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and members of the media.
Ms Al Ruwaie applauded the co-operation and co-ordination of the government and NGOs on the issue of combating domestic violence.
She said recent steps in this direction included the creation of a committee for domestic violence against women at the Health Ministry, as well as a training programme for the police and Public Prosecution on how to deal with victims of abuse.
Another positive step, she noted, was the Dar Al Aman shelter, which had been established by the Social Development Ministry and was now being run by the Bahrain Sociologists Society.
"However, all these steps are still modest and don't meet the requirements for the escalating problem of violence against women," said Ms Al Ruwaie.
Meanwhile, Ms Al Ruwaie said steps are also needed to protect housemaids from domestic violence.
She said according to 2001 figures (the latest available), there were 29,583 domestic helpers in Bahrain of which 21,291 were women. However, more up to date data on domestic helpers was needed, she said.
"In Bahrain there is a lack of societies or organisations that work for the rights of domestic workers and there are no statistics on abuse cases towards them that have gone to court," she added.