The fight to end gender-based violence must happen on all levels

Heba Yosry
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The ongoing coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns has born higher rates of domestic abuse globally and has left many women without support.

In response, the United Nations Secretary-General has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the increased number of domestic abuse cases and work toward ending all forms of gender-based violence, and more specifically to end violence against women and girls.

But outside the home, there is a more systemic issue that must be addressed, and if we are to combat violence against women, it must be done at all levels.

In Doha’s airport on October 2, women on an outbound flight to Sydney – including 13 Australian citizens – were removed from their flight and were forced to undergo a vaginal exam after a newborn was found abandoned in the airport’s bathroom. Women on 10 flights on October 2 were affected by the tests.

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Women weren’t told where they were taken to or what wrong did they do, they were silently ushered by an armed guard to an ambulance waiting on the tarmac. Inside the ambulance, women weren’t told why they had been brought there, instead they were asked to remove their undergarments to be examined.

The examinations were violating and nonconsensual, and further they failed to reveal the new mother. And now, the trauma these women experienced will endure. The victims recently hired a lawyer who was on one of the flights to represent them in an effort to seek justice. Their lawyer spoke of the psychological damage the women need to live with and how some of them resorted to therapy to cope with the incident. To contextualize the level of humiliation these women encountered, in the UK, the NHS reported that 1 in 3 women in the UK avoid cervical exams, an important tool for early cancer detection, because the exam is too embarrassing.

The Qatari government apologized and promised to investigate the incident after the Australian government denounced the treatment of its citizens.

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In complete contradiction with the recent incident at Hamad airport, in 2013, sculptures designed by Damien Hirst depicting embryonic growth inside the uterus were unveiled and placed in Sidra hospital in Doha. The sculptures seemed to evoke the Quranic verses from surat Al Mu’minoun verses 12-14 that narrate the creation of the human being. In Arabic uterus literally translates as Raḥim, a word that is derived from the divine name Al Raḥeem meaning the Merciful. It is through the divine and merciful qualities of the womb that new life is created and sustained.

I admired the celebration of womanhood, and of the creative and procreative abilities that God has endowed unto the uterus. Didn’t these women deserve some mercy?

But yet there are those who scorn God’s gift to women.

The second example is found in the UK. The BBC recently reported the sale of virginity tests in some UK clinics. The invasive and medically inaccurate tests are being administered by health professionals who say they have an obligation to their patients’ wellbeing. Some parents, typically in minority communities, request that their young girls be subjected to this humiliating violation to prove their chastity, ensuring that they are “pure” for marriage.

How can these health workers in the West agree and profit from a blatant human rights violation? How can the country that brought to the world the Suffragettes who called for women’s equality and inspired a subsequent global movement of women’s rights be implicated in such a regressive practice? And why is the government silent? Does the sexual violation of young girls, even if sanctioned by the government, make the government look more sympathetic toward it minorities?

No woman or girl should be subjected to violence, and the world – from individuals to governments – must do more to ensure that all forms of gender based violence and discrimination be completely eradicated. The perpetrator sometimes isn’t an individual, but a system that enables it, whether it is in a form of the armed guard standing outside the ambulance or in the form of a medical professional who checks for the purity and chastity of a young girl, justice for survivors becomes more elusive.


Heba Yosry teaches psychology and philosophy in Cairo. She holds a post-graduate degree in Arabic Literature and philosophy from the American University in Cairo.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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