Every day we hear about domestic violence perpetrated against women and girls, and especially in our Arab community, where we hear stories that chill the heart and hurt the ears. Recently, many of us have noticed the high frequency of these practices, many in conjunction with the home quarantine measures taken to limit the spread of COVID-19. The question is: what is most to blame for violence against women?
Last September, a young girl ran away from her father’s house because she and her sisters were subjected to physical, verbal and psychological violence by her brothers and her father. Afnan Yassin, the sixteen-year-old girl, published information on her social media accounts about what happened to her and how she escaped from her father’s house and then disappeared. Her parents are separated.
At first I was shocked by what I heard, but then I remembered how many girls are experiencing the same abuse—or probably worse—that was inflicted on Afnan.
I have always felt upset when I heard about such stories and wanted to do something to help these girls. About a year ago, I joined Y-PEER (Youth-Peer Education Network) in the Gaza Strip. Through psychological support and women’s rights advocacy sessions provided by the network, I was able to be closer to these women and to share their concerns and, at the same time, offer them advice and support. I was happy to participate in these sessions. It was especially gratifying to see a battered girl or woman taking charge of her rights and getting back on her feet again.
Social, cultural, and political factors
Violence against women has become a social scourge that is perpetuated by unfair social norms and laws. It is defined as any assault against women based on gender, whether it causes physical, sexual or psychological harm or pain to them. It includes threats, pressure and arbitrary deprivation of freedoms, whether in public or private life.
In 2017, it was reported that 319 women were battered in the Gaza Strip. In 2018 that number reached 432 women and currently it is 500. It is important to note that these statistics do not reflect the reality of social restrictions that prevent women from reporting their exposure to violence.
The causes of violence can be traced to the so-called guardianship of men over women. Guardianship, with its basic understanding and even from an Islamic standpoint as well, means taking responsibility and protecting and containing women. meaning the right to have power and control over women. This is especially true when a man exploits this right to justify acts of violence against a woman, while However, the existence of a culture of domination in a patriarchal society with the consequent oppression of women and their inferior gaze, in addition to the traditional preference for males in Arab society, puts in question the religious view of the right of men to guardianship over women.
There is more to the problem of violence against women in Gaza, where it is undeniable that the Israeli blockade has contributed to the increase in the intensity of violence in the community. This exacerbates the violence resulting from the lack of a decent life for many women whose homes were destroyed during the wars against Gaza and whose families are without shelter until now. Such circumstances can easily generate anger in humans, and this often leads to the use of violence.
Contending with prevailing gendered traditions
In an attempt to gain more experience on women’s rights advocacy, about six months ago, I applied to enroll in a program to prepare international leaders and defenders of women’s rights, affiliated to an institution called Women Deliver. This is a leading global organization that champions gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women. At the end of the application was a question: What are the challenges you face in your country as a women’s rights advocate?
I had many ideas when I read this question. I wrote the following: “Why do fathers rejoice at the birth of a son and do not feel the same joy at the birth of a daughter? I always wondered about this. When I started university, I knew the answer: males are perceived as backbones of strong families and females as a burden. This is what our eastern patriarchal Arab culture is built on. This is the biggest challenge I’m facing as a woman rights advocate: changing the prevailing traditional view of women in my society. “
I can almost assert that every girl in my community has asked herself this same question or similar one: “Why am I not treated like my brother? Why can’t I complete my education? Why am I not allowed to choose a husband freely?” Why, why, and why!
These questions, and many more, haunt the minds of girls here. Sometimes we may not find a convincing answer, but other times we see a glimmer of hope. It is when we hear about a girl who succeeded in achieving her ambition, or a woman who was able to break traditions and become an owner of a successful business.
Despite all of the above, women everywhere continue to be exposed to physical and psychological harm, whatever the reason. We must work–as defenders of women’s rights as and of human rights- to protect them from violence. We must demand that all institutions in the local and international community seek to find optimal solutions to put an end to discrimination and violence against women. Otherwise, there will be many more girls like Afnan who have lost faith in society because we chose to remain silent.