Rise in Violence Against Women

Since the payment of financial aid to Palestine has been stopped, there has been an increase in sexual violence against women in the Palestinian territories and, most particularly, in the refugee camps. Petra Tabeling reports

According to studies conducted by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the freezing of aid payments by the Middle East Quartet is already having a profound effect on Palestinian society.

Most donor countries stopped their payments to the Palestinian territories following Hamas's victory in the January 2006 elections because Hamas refused to acknowledge Israel's right to exist and renounce violence.

The weakest members of society

"That has had fatal consequences for us," reports Shabaneh Luay, president of the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics. Within the first quarter of this year, the rate of poverty in the territories increased from 29 to 47 per cent. Women and families with several children are suffering most, he says.

Speaking recently in Brussels at an international symposium on sexual violence in war and crisis zones, Luay openly criticised politicians for not considering the impact that their decision would have on the weakest members of society, namely women and children.

He pointed out that at the moment, humanitarian aid is virtually non-existent, social structures are weakened, health care in the occupied territories and in the refugee camps in particular is minimal, aid workers are not being paid, and there is hardly any psychological support on offer.

A study conducted last year showed that 21 per cent of Palestinian woman have already experienced a sexual attack or sexual violence on at least one occasion. This statistic refers to both married and single women, children and adults.

A lack of awareness about violence

Aid agencies and the UNFPA, which has been playing an active role in the Palestinian Autonomous Territories for the past twenty years and co-ordinates and supports local initiatives, conclude that the dramatic increase in violence in the course of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and in particular after the second intifada, led to a dramatic increase in both social and domestic violence last year.

During her visit to the occupied territories in 2005, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Yakin Ertürk, concluded that the conflict is having a "disproportionately large effect on Palestinian women in the occupied territories."

Women are not just being killed or injured by Israeli security forces, they are also suffering as a result of the demolition of houses and the fact that their freedom of movement is being curtailed, which, in turn, restricts their access to health care and educational facilities.

This means that they are the victims of violence at the hands of both the Israelis and their own families. However, poverty, frustration, and the daily threats and restrictions in the Palestinian territories have also resulted in violence within their own families. "The problem is that in this milieu, the term 'violence' is not taken to mean the same thing as it is at international level," says Shabaneh Luay.

"For example, one in five people here is of the opinion that beating a child is not a form of violence. Violence is defined as something that comes from outside; something that is perpetrated by oppressors, but not something that is perpetrated by members of the victim's immediate family."

This is why it is incredibly difficult to gather reliable data. Moreover, the number of incidents that are officially reported to the police is very low. In short, the estimated number of unreported cases is much larger. This is a massive awareness problem and one that must urgently be analysed, researched, and addressed in the form of an intense local awareness campaign.

Multidimensional alliances against violence

These points are all part of a national action plan presented in Brussels last June at the first major international symposium on "sexual violence in war and crisis zones" organised by the United Nations and the European Commission.

The symposium called for long-term, multidimensional co-operation between all organisations and institutions at both local and international level and an alliance between education, health, and other social sectors.

However, it also expressed the opinion that the fight to overcome violence against women should become a political issue as well. Luay stresses that the aspect of sexual violence that occurs every day at both checkpoints in Israel and in the occupied territories must not be overlooked.

Sana Asi, project co-ordinator from MIFTAH, a Palestinian initiative that seeks to support global dialogue and democracy, hopes for international co-operation in this regard. Says Asi:

"We want to increase awareness and initiate a dialogue between politicians and other organisations in order to address this delicate issue in Palestinian society. We would like to explain the situation in Palestine to the international community and build up networks between national and international organisations."

Petra Tabeling

© Qantara.de 2006

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan


Wirtschaftsboykott gegen die Autonomiebehörde
Wer mit Hamas nicht spricht ...
Die Lage im Nahen Osten hat sich dramatisch zugespitzt. Schuld trägt nicht nur die Hamas, sondern auch die EU sowie andere internationale Geber – mit ihrem Stopp der Finanzhilfen haben sie die Krise zusätzlich verschärft. Ein Kommentar von Bettina Marx

Women in the Gulf
Exploited and Patronized
States in the Gulf like Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi-Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are nowhere near achieving the implementation of equal rights for women in society. Foreign female workers in particular are almost treated like slaves. Petra Tabeling reports

Nadim Center in Cairo
Against Torture and Sexist Violence
Since its founding in 1993, the "Nadim Center" in Cairo has documented cases of torture in Egypt and offers help to victims and surviving dependants. At the same time NADIM has become a refuge for female victims of domestic violence. Martina Sabra reports