The Arab world saw a significant surge in highly publicized incidents of violence against women and femicides throughout the month of June, sparking an uproar across the Middle East.
Stories of violence against women across the region in countries like Egypt and Jordan highlighted a significant social problem, with the common theme of incidents like Egyptian university student Nayiera Ashraf and Jordanian nursing student Iman Ersheid who were killed by men who could not handle rejection, according to several reports.
Al Arabiya English spoke to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that weighed in on the issue and suggested ways in which governments and societies can work to mitigate the recurrence of such incidents.
“In my opinion, the recent upsurge in the number of horrible incidents of violence against women that was witnessed in June is a result of the deteriorating state of accountability for perpetration of violence against women,” Masculinities Technical Advisor at Lebanon-based NGO ABAAD Anthony Keedi told Al Arabiya English.
“Many of the structural foundations of countries in the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region either slip into unprecedented levels of dysfunction or become solidified in power-over and patriarchal cultural norms, legal frameworks, and political and economic structures,” he explained. “Both of these possibilities decrease the level of attention to issues of violence against women, allocation of resources dedicated to addressing violence against women, and prioritization of women’s human rights issues.”
Keedi believes the main driver of all forms of violence against women is a “patriarchal and violent value system that greatly informs and influences social practices and norms, and economic, political and legal structural frameworks.”
ABAAD has also noticed this in “different manifestations” throughout its work in helping victims of gender-based violence.
One of the region’s most publicized femicides was the killing of Nayiera Ashraf, a 21-year-old university student who had her throat slit by a man identified as Mohammed Adel whose marriage proposal she allegedly rejected.
In an interview with Al Arabiya last month, the victim’s mother said that Adel, who was recently sentenced to death by an Egyptian court, held a “grudge” against her daughter and had been harassing her for two years.
Also in June, Jordanian university student Iman Ersheid, 18, was fatally shot by a man who was identified as Uday Khaled Abdullah Hassan, 37, on the campus of the Applied Science Private University in Amman, Jordan. Ersheid was also killed for rejecting a man’s advances.
Once identified and located by authorities, Hassan refused to surrender and subsequently committed suicide with what appeared to be a gunshot to the head.
Lebanon sees rise in violence against women
Egypt and Jordan are not alone in the rise of femicide incidence.
Another Lebanese NGO called KAFA told Al Arabiya English in an email that Lebanon has registered a rise in violent incidents against women, particularly during the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown in the Levantine country throughout 2020.
“The main cause of violence against women in Lebanon is in the sectarian personal status law,” KAFA said. “We have 18 sects and 15 personal status laws.”
Lebanon lacks a civil code regulating personal status matters like inheritance, marriage, and child custodies so it relies on 15 separate personal religious-based status laws and courts for the 18 recognized sects. As a result, individuals are treated differently because of their gender or religion.
“This is why we are working on an ongoing advocacy campaign to adopt a unified personal status law,” the NGO said, adding that it has drafted a proposed unified personal status law and is currently lobbying to adopt it.
Lack of accountability
Highlighting the motivations behind such crimes, Keedi said that the root causes were “the male-centric and patriarchal political structures, legal frameworks, policies and social norms in the region” as well as the difficulty in passing laws to protect women from public and domestic abuse and harassment.
“Accountability for any perpetration of violence against women in any form, weather physical violence on the domestic level or political violence on the structural level, is rarely sought out and seldom achieved. All the while women’s human rights activists have been chastised as betrayers of the culture, individuals who have naively fallen into a western/colonial mindset, or sacrilegious,” he said.
He also attributed the recent increase in these incidents to the “decreasing economic stability and general security” as well as “geopolitical tensions” as they can worsen pre-existing imbalances in society.
“With these power imbalances, accountability for perpetration of violence against people of marginalized communities, such as women and girls in all their diversities, becomes even less persecuted. Thus, this environment forces women and girls to incur even more violence on a regular basis.”
What can be done
Addressing violence against women is no easy feat, but Keedi suggested multiple ways to tackle such issues.
He said that on an individual level, there would need to be emergency safe housing and shelters for victims of domestic and interpersonal violence, as well as “outpatient counseling centers and women and girls’ safe spaces” to address daily harassment and violence experienced by women and girls.
“On the community level, programs promoting nonviolence, gender equality, and human rights for men and women of all ages would need to be administered in schools, community centers, and local cultural or social institutions,” Keedi explained.
Such programs could facilitate discussions within communities to find better ways to deal with situations and propose possible solutions.
“There must be greater emphasis on accountability for any and all forms of violence against women, and adequate funding and logistical considerations for the proper implementation of laws,” Keedi said.
“On the political level, equitable and fair representation for all historically marginalized groups must be prioritized through quotas and other affirmative action mechanisms,” he urged, adding that by doing so, the very structures that ignore women’s human rights could be “changed in their fundamental composition.”
“With a more diverse, representative, and fair political makeup, the state will be less likely to devalue and de-prioritize issues pertaining to women and girls and other marginalized groups in the future,” he added, referring to Lebanon’s political system.
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