A woman on a mission, Samineh Shaheem is crusading against the UAE’s bullies through a series of talks, lectures and seminars, starting this month. Her campaign, called Bolt Down On Bullying, aims to raise awareness of the issue locally.
‘There has been lots of attention around the world regarding suicide-related bullying,’ says Samineh, who has worked as a cross-cultural psychologist for the past 14 years. She explains that the UAE doesn’t yet have a bullying culture that’s this extreme, but feels we should prevent this potential reality.
Samineh warns of the situation in UAE schools. ‘When you have a classroom of 14 different nationalities and there are clear superiority issues, some kids will feel stronger and more powerful, and they may get away with instances of bullying because they see it happening in different aspects of society,’ she claims. ‘It’s thought that 70 per cent of bullying cases go unreported, but whether it’s a big or a small problem is irrelevant.’
There are currently no formal statistics for severe cases of bullying in the UAE. According to a 2008 survey by the UK’s NHS, 44 per cent of young people admitted they’d been bullied at school. Last year,
the Josephson Institute interviewed more than 43,000 US teens aged 15 to 18 and claimed that 24 per cent of students fear going to school. Adult bulling, on the other hand, is rarely spoken about or documented, but Semineh urges that it should not be ignored.
From a cultural perspective the UAE is a hugely transient place, with families and individuals regularly coming and going. Samineh believes this is an added burden at school or in the workplace and requires a readjustment that may bring about home sickness, lower emotional stability and lower self-esteem, which may make certain people easy targets.
Billy* is 12 years old and has been bullied at school in Dubai, both verbally and physically. ‘There’s nothing worse than hating to go to school because you don’t want to face that really mean person making your life hell,’ he explains. Luckily, Billy’s situation has vastly improved since he has spoken about it – his peers were able to recognise what was happening and hold the bully accountable. To conquer bullying, ‘everyone has to take responsibility, including the school, the community, the victim and the bully’, explains Samineh. She points out that the campaign’s ‘Bolt’ slogan stands for four important pointers: Be a friend; Offer support; Learn to respond; and Tell someone.
The Bolt Down On Bullying seminars, which start this week, will teach parents, siblings, teachers, counsellors and administrators to recognise the signs of bullying and how to prevent it, such as asking students to sign a pledge in schools not to engage in bullying, to psychologically create a barrier where they think twice about their actions. Other methods include publicly punishing a bully, using posters as reminders, getting the community on board and letting the perpetrators know there are consequences to their actions. ‘Sticks and stones may break your bones,’ says Samineh, ‘but names will break your spirit.’
Sandra* is 15 and has had a similar experience to Billy, with the added stress of cyber bullying – abuse through text messages and emails. ‘The teasing and bullying got so bad that I just wanted to disappear. I didn’t really know where to, but I just wanted to be invisible so that they would leave me alone,’ she says. The worst advice from parents, believes Samineh, is to tell children they need to fight their own battles. ‘Everyone has to take responsibility, including the bystanders; we can easily avoid the anguish and effects of bullying.’
For more information on the campaign, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Samineh (04 365 8579)
How to recognise the signs of bullying
In the workplace
• Unwarranted or invalid criticism from a superior or colleagues
• Being treated differently to the rest of your colleagues
• Criticism about your character rather than your work
• Repeatedly being the target of practical jokes
• Excessive secret or obvious monitoring without logical justification
• Your child doesn’t want to go to school
• Frequent injuries, lost items or damage to clothes or property
• Avoids recess and the playground before, during and/or after school
• Seems to always be alone at school; doesn’t invite friends home
• Somatic complaints, such as headaches or stomach aches
If you think you’re a victim:
• Tell someone
• Keep reporting it if it continues
• Know that you have done nothing wrong to deserve to be bullied