EGYPT: Abused women reluctant to come forward
Despite the opening of the first safe-house for women in Cairo, few are choosing to leave their abusive marriages due to the social stigma and financial insecurity they would face.
Oum Mohammed was married when she was 16. "From the day I married him, he hit me over matters big and small," she says of her husband.
"He told me that all women should be beaten. I didn't protest because I was afraid he'd throw me and my children into the street," she adds. "I'd seen my father hit my mother, and in every house in the alley a man hits a woman."
Oum Mohammed's story is just one of 700 case studies that the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women (ADEW), a local NGO, has collected over the past several years.
Hearing stories like these convinced ADEW that there was an urgent need for a shelter for women who are victims of violence.
According to the NGO, domestic abuse is common in Egypt. A 2001 survey conducted in low-income neighbourhoods found that 96 percent of women had been beaten at least once by their husbands.
Such violence is often condoned by society, or even by the victims, experts say.
A majority of the women surveyed in a government study, for example, said a husband had the right to beat his wife if she talked to him disrespectfully, talked to another man, spent too much money or refused her husband sex.
If a woman goes to the police station to report domestic abuse, the police adopt "the cultural perspective that the man has the right to do it", says ADEW officer Bahira El-Gohary.
Men convicted of domestic violence in Egypt face sentences ranging from monetary fines to three years in prison. According to Nihad al-Qumsan, head of the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights, however, "most of the time, judges give low penalties".