Violence against Women in Palestine: Legal Reforms are a Prerequisite for Ensuring Protection

“Violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality, development and peace. Violence against women both violates and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action [1995]

Written by: Amani Aruri

Violence against women is a phenomenon that exists almost all over the world, however; the intensity of it varies across countries due to cultural, economic and political specificities. In Palestine, many factors interplay with each other to make it more severe in its widespread, form and impact on women’s lives. The prolonged Israeli occupation and colonialism with its disproportionate impact on women’s daily lives restrict their ability to have access to resources and freedom of movement and a lack of political will to achieve gender justice and gender equality accompanied with an inactive legislative council. The inherited patriarchal social structure, which is also embedded in the educational curricula, and the existence of “push back” forces in the policymaking and decision-making levels against the legal and social reforms all make the change process almost intangible despite the hard efforts made by civil society and fighters for gender justice, even from within the government.

On the international level, the Palestinian government has taken several positive steps to recognize women’s rights as human rights, which are emphasized in several international treaties and conventions. Examples are the accession without reservation to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2014, the adoption of the recommendations of the Fourth International Conference held in Beijing, and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 1995, which was referred to in almost all national plans aimed to combat gender-based violence and achieve gender equality. On the national level, the Palestinian government adopted the Strategic Plan for Combating Violence against Women (VAW) 2011 – 2019, and its National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325 as the second in the Arab States Region after Iraq in 2015. Despite these efforts, there is still an urgent need for effective mechanisms, policies, legislations and programmes that would turn these plans into actions. There’s also a huge and urgent responsibility for the government to align national laws and legislations with the treaties and conventions it signed and committed to.

The most common types of violence against women observed in Palestine include domestic violence, sexual harassment, early marriage and femicide in both public and private spheres, including streets, workplaces, homes and high-density areas, such as refugee camps, particularly in the Gaza Strip. The Violence on the Palestinian Territory Survey of 2019 showed that 29% of currently married women or ever-married women experienced at least one form of violence by their husbands, of which 61% of those women chose to remain silent. Only 1% of women who experienced violence by their husbands filed a complaint at the police station or at a family protection unit, and only 1% of those women referred to a legal or psychological assistance center, despite the fact that 40% of women who experienced violence were aware of the existence of centers or institutions for protection against violence.[1] This conveys the lack of trust in the legal system in Palestine and the inability of women to have access to justice, given the discriminatory and outdated laws and legislations, along with a lack of effective and confidential protection system for women.  In addition, survivors of violence are often stigmatized by society and are blamed for the violence that they experience.

The aforementioned trends of violence against women have led to an increased occurrence of femicide cases in the last few years, which is the most dangerous form of violence, as it violates women’s basic human right, the right to life! In the period from 2016 to 2018, 76 cases of femicide were documented by the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC), where 37% of these cases were young women aged 18-29 years, and 41% of the cases have never been married. In 2019, WCLAC documented 24 cases of femicide. [2]

Recently, as a result of the strong advocacy of civil society organizations and women’s movement, the Palestinian government has begun to adopt specific legislation to respond to family violence. At the beginning of November 2019, it approved a law by decree declaring the minimum age for marriage is 18 for both males and females, in an effort to end child marriage, with exceptions to cases determined by the religious court and the PA’s supreme sharia judge.

The most prominent priority for women’s rights defenders and women’s rights and human rights organizations is ratifying the Family Protection Bill, which was submitted to the President for consultations and endorsement many years ago. It was also emphasized in the Concluding Observations of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Committee, which includes a recommendation to give high priority to the adoption of the Family Protection Bill, to ensure gender equality and recognize women’s human rights in Palestine. The Family Protection Bill (FPB) is expected to provide measures to prevent and combat violence, as well as due protection, reparation, and empowerment of survivors of violence while holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. The endorsement of the Family Protection Bill will be a huge contribution towards ending violence against women and girls in Palestine, if and only if, there will be an effective and efficient implementation and translation of the Bill through responsive policies, services and practices.

In May 2020, the second draft of FPB was shared with recommendations made by CSOs, especially women’s organizations, however; they have not been taken into account, thus raising serious concern on the legal protection of women through the new legislation. The draft was initially discussed in the Palestinian Cabinet on May 11th. The Palestinian women’s movement is tirelessly working to urge the duty bearers to adopt the fundamental recommendations in order to ensure more consistency with international human rights standards and ending VAW.

Combatting Violence against women is everyone’s responsibility. We need more collaboration in creating more partnerships and mobilizing more people to utilize higher energy and resources. Youth is the core of this process of change, and are the best to lead it.

[1] PCBS, Preliminary Results of the Violence Survey in the Palestinian Society 2019. 2019

[2] Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, Femicide in the Palestinian Society, 2019

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor. 

About the Author

 Amani Aruri:

Born and raised in Palestine, Amani is passionate about linking, improving, and increasing support to women and youth peacebuilders and increasing young people’s pro-social civic engagement and democratic participation, particularly in high-risk contexts. She is a member of the assembly of the UN Women gender innovation program-AGORA, a member of the Global Youth Task Force on Beijing +25, and was elected for the Youth Local Council of Eastern Bani Zaid town in Palestine. She also leads campaigns (including media campaigns) to hold duty bearers accountable for violations of women’s rights on the national and international levels and raises awareness on the situation of Palestinian women.

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