Nahla*, aged 30, from Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, said she was physically and mentally abused for more than 10 years by her husband before being granted a divorce three months ago.
Fear and cultural factors prevented her from seeking help from women’s organizations.
“I never tried to go to the police to complain about my husband's criminal acts, because he threatened to kill me if I did,” Nahla told IRIN. “And I never went to complain to any women’s rights organizations because I didn’t think they would be able to solve my problem - and I was also scared that my husband would find out.”
Rights activists blame the economy, Hamas-Fatah tensions and the conflict with Israel for the rising number of cases of violence against women. Disinterest in domestic abuse by the judicial authorities and the apparent impunity of violators have made matters worse, they say.
A March 2010 report by the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) explores women’s perceptions of the organizations or legal bodies designed to protect them, based on focus group discussions and interviews with women and girls in the West Bank and Gaza between June and November 2009.
The levels of violence against women in the Gaza Strip are higher than they were in previous years, and compared to other countries the rates are certainly higher
“Women and girls revealed that their feelings of insecurity are related to the ongoing conflict, society’s tacit acceptance of violence against women, their own lack of awareness of service providers, and their distrust of the available services,” the report said.
“Women and girls explained that they were reluctant to resort to women’s organizations, human rights organizations, or security and justice providers, such as the police and courts, because of the strong social stigma attached to reporting abuse.”
The report said women recommended more awareness-raising events and education campaigns for all segments of society about women’s rights and the institutions in place to uphold them. They also felt better training was needed for members of the social services, women’s and human rights organizations and hospital staff and police - in addition to increased female representation in these organizations and political life in general.
A 2008 survey of 2,400 Palestinians by Ramallah-based independent research centre Arab World for Research & Development (AWRAD) found that 74 percent of Palestinians did not know of a women’s or human rights organization working in the field of women’s rights; and 77 percent of respondents believed that laws needed to be enacted to protect women from domestic violence.
Nahla’s brothers called the police to report the fact that she was being beaten regularly and kept locked in her home without access to a telephone to make contact with her family. The police arrested her husband, kept him in custody for five hours and then released him, she said.
The police then took Nahla to her mother’s house, where she stayed until she was granted a divorce by a local court, which ordered that her five children remain with their father. Against his will, the court has given her the right to visit her children one day a week.
“My heart is torn apart because I live away from my kids, but my life with him was hell,” Nahla said. “I could never go back.”
In December 2009, a report by the Gaza-based Palestinian Women’s Information and Media Center (PWIC) noted an upsurge in violence against women since Israel imposed an economic blockade on the Gaza Strip in June 2007, after Hamas became the de facto authority there.
Photo: Tom Spender/IRIN
|A study found that 77 percent of women in Gaza had experienced violence of various sorts (file photo)|
The study - based on 24 workshops and interviews with 350 other women in the last quarter of 2009 - found that 77 percent of women in Gaza had experienced violence of various sorts, 53 percent had experienced physical violence and 15 percent sexual abuse.
"The levels of violence against women in the Gaza Strip are higher than they were in previous years, and compared to other countries the rates are certainly higher," Huda Hamouda, director of PWIC, said. “Women are exposed to hardships in every sphere, be it financial, social, political or lack of security.”
She said widespread unemployment was one of the biggest contributors to household stress, and in turn male violence towards females.
"It's hard to imagine a family living in dignity when they live on less than three dollars a day. Many say they don’t feel respected and suffer depression. Poverty affects education and public participation. It limits their social standing,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Commission on the Status of Women, a commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), on 12 March approved a text on the status of and assistance to Palestinian women, to be sent to ECOSOC for adoption.
The draft resolution expresses concern about the “grave situation of Palestinian women in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, resulting from the severe impact of the ongoing illegal Israeli occupation and all of its manifestations”.
(*not her real name)