Women in the Middle East and North Africa are more likely to experience violence by an intimate partner than any of their international counterparts, according to the World Health Organisation.
The United Nations on Nov. 25 marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, beginning a 16-day campaign that continues into next week.
What is disappointing is that 20 years after the U.N. General Assembly declared a framework to end violence against women, it is still forecasted that 70 percent of women will experience some form of violence in their lifetime. And this region has a lot of work to do in ending the problem.
In war and peace, violence persists
Violence against women is not limited to the domestic sphere. The number of wars in the Middle East make developing a framework to end violence against women in the region ever more difficult.
One of the first steps to combating violence against women in the region is implementing legislation that protects their rights.Yara al-Wazir
Throughout history, violence against women has been a systematic during war. Syria is no exception; the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network has published a report highlighting how women have been subjected to violence throughout the Syrian war; the report includes stories of women being used as bargaining chips during hostage exchanges, and tells tales of sexual violence, rape, torture, and deprivation of basic sanitation and medical care when in detention. The report highlights grave human rights abuses and violations against women.
The actual number of women subjected to abuse during war is unknown due to limited data. The social stigma associated with confessing abuse is still prominent. A study by AWRAD showed that 77 per cent of Palestinian women are not even aware of any organisations that directly supports abused women.
Fear of police action
Another reason that women don’t go to the authorities to report violence is fear of what may happen while at the police station, or a lack of action by police in some cases.
In Egypt, studies show that 93.4 per cent of Egyptian women fail to report violence to the police authorities. The reason is blatant: 93 per cent of those who had the courage to go to the police stated that their questions and requests for help went unanswered. Additionally, there is the issue of police-instigated violence against women, including virginity tests, which was documented by Amnesty International in 2014.
In admitting abuse or violence, there is an element of humiliation, and that is natural human instinct. Inevitably, there may be an element of self-blame. The lack of police action against abusers means that reporting such crimes often entails pointless humiliation.
Legislation without implementation is pointless
One of the first steps to combating violence against women in the region is implementing legislation that protects their rights and offers them safety and security when they come forward. It is alarming that women in the region are more likely to be abused by a member of their family or an intimate partner, than they are by a stranger. That’s when the need for safety comes in.
Legislation has been trickling into the region, notably in Lebanon and Jordan. However, it is important that significant efforts are made to implement this legislation.
Additionally, there is a dire need for effective policing. Every member of the police force must be trained to deal with issues of violence against women. Egypt’s tactic of employing special units compromised of female officers is insufficient given the size of the population. The police force needs to be transparent in the way it deals with complaints and adamant about prosecuting the attackers.
Legislation, implementation, and safety make up the holy triangle to combating violence against women in the Middle East. Once this triangle is formed, the region can begin to stabilize and successfully end violence.
Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir
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