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Experts: Palestinian culture accepts marital rape and domestic violence; the laws don't protect women

Nan Jacques Zilberdik  |

Palestinian TV interviewed three experts on the serious problems of marital rape and domestic violence, anticipating this week’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. 

The UN just reported that "a third of all women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.” The UN noted that violence against women often goes unreported, and UN Secretary General Antonió Guterres added that “sexual violence against women and girls is rooted in centuries of male domination."

"Violence against women and girls is among the most widespread, and devastating human rights violations in the world, but much is often unreported due to impunity, shame and gender inequality."

[UN News website, Nov. 24, 2019]

According to Palestinian experts, Palestinian women also suffer from inequality and violence. Khadija Zahran, director of the Independent Commission for Human Rights' (ICHR) Legislation Monitoring Department, spoke of the different types of violence committed against women – physical violence and verbal violence or psychological violence. As part of the physical violence, Zahran spoke at length about sexual violence, when a woman is forced to engage in sexual activity against her will. Similar to the UN’s observations, Zahran pointed out that both physical and sexual violence are seen as normative behavior in Palestinian society, and that even the women themselves assume the man has this "right":

"There is no recognition [in Palestinian society] of psychological or sexual violence. There are assumptions that the husband has sexual rights to the wife, and she does not know that there is a concept of 'marital rape.' Her body is a right permitted to the man or the husband."

[Official PA TV, Gently, Nov. 20, 2019]

In this context, Birzeit University social sciences lecturer Bader Al-A'araj touched on another of the UN’s observations. He stated that the issue of marital rape isn’t even a concept in Palestinian social consciousness – because "she is his wife" – implying that he has a right to rape her:

"The concept of ‘marital rape’ … For us, this concept is not present in our social consciousness. When I teach at Birzeit [University] about violence against women and I speak about marital rape, some of the students are amazed at the very concept itself. How could someone rape his wife?"

[Official PA TV, Gently, Nov. 20, 2019]

Al-A’araj also mentioned another important reason for the widespread violence against women – the lack of suitable laws to deter it: 

"Not only do we still not have laws protecting women from violence – some of the types [of violence] are not even recognized in our social consciousness as being part of the types of violence."

[Official PA TV, Gently, Nov. 20, 2019]

Al-A'araj summarized some of the reasons for violence against Palestinian women. One reason is "the social culture and the domination of a male-patriarchal culture that justifies this type of violence." A second is the absence of proper laws to protect women against violence everywhere - "at home, on the street, or at the workplace." And thirdly, there is an almost global "tolerance" of violence against women in the home, because it is committed by someone "close" and many victims suffer from the misconception that if they "forgive," the violence will stop:

"There are a number of reasons for the issue of violence against women. The first reason… relates to the social culture and the domination of a male-patriarchal culture that justifies this type of violence. Secondly, a lack of defined and detailed deterrent laws that will protect women from violence – whether at home, on the street, or at the workplace. There is also a third reason… There is tolerance especially when the violence is within the family. In the sense that the person who attacks the woman is her relative, husband, or lover… There is a kind of tolerance for this type of violence because its source is a person who is close to us… This tolerance leads to continuation [of the violence] in many cases… Some women think that if they forgive, it will make the violence stop."

[Official PA TV, Gently, Nov. 20, 2019]

The statements of experts Al-A'araj and Zahran echo those of the Palestinian Human Rights and Democracy Center "SHAMS," which has stated that "women remain the most prominent victims of the male culture and of the violence that grows out of it" and that "the state of women's rights in Palestine is still at a standstill." [Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Sept. 2, 2019]

Palestinian Media Watch has reported on PA policies and statements that are detrimental to Palestinian women, and add to the abuse of their basic human rights. For example, the PA has discouraged women from contacting the Israeli police after being a victim of domestic violence, and has instructed men on how to gently beat their wives. Moreover, PA religious leaders have ruled that sex on demand is a Muslim husband's "right" and a wife's "obligation." Because of these PA policies honor killings also remain a problem in the PA.

The following is a longer excerpt of the interview on official PA TV:

Official PA TV host: "The topic of violence against women is not another marginal topic, but rather it has become a central topic and the talk of the hour among various groups and ages in the halls and courtyards of the institutions, schools, and universities, and even in the Palestinian street. What is required to stop this violence, and is the problem the lack of deterrent laws, or is the problem the dominant social culture?"

Birzeit University social sciences lecturer Bader Al-A'araj: “There are a number of reasons for the issue of violence against women. The first reason… relates to the social culture and the domination of a male-patriarchal culture that justifies this type of violence. Secondly, a lack of defined and detailed deterrent laws that will protect women from violence – whether at home, on the street, or at the workplace.
There is also a third reason. I think that it is also important and, by the way, it is also a global reason: There is tolerance especially when the violence is within the family. In the sense that the person who attacks the woman is her relative, husband, or lover and the like. I am talking even on the global level. There is a kind of tolerance for this type of violence because its source is a person who is close to us, with whom we have some kind of relationship. And this tolerance leads to continuation [of the violence] in many cases. Of course in many cases some women think that if they forgive, it will make the violence stop. But many cases indicate that there is an escalation, and the statistics indicate that the violence that women experience usually will come from people they know, not from strangers. In most cases, the violence that women experience – on the global level – is from people they know."

Independent Commission for Human Rights' (ICHR) Legislation Monitoring Department Director Khadija Zahran: "There are a number of types of violence against women and of violence in general. There is physical violence, striking a person’s body with blows by [raising] a hand or a body part, with tools or a foreign body that is sometimes fatal – some of the means or tools, and sometimes with a weapon. In other words, not just tools that come to hand. Some of the violence, or another type of it, is verbal violence. We call this one of the types or expressions of psychological violence, which is tantamount to neglect, denial of rights, [and] refusal to recognize some of the special qualities and characteristics of one’s life partner… 
There is also a type of sexual violence, which is an assault against the body or sexual acts against the partner or another person against their will. This is part- of course, if we are talking about sexual violence, then there is verbal violence, there is violence of negligence, and there is violence that sometimes- for example we define sexual harassment, which is part of sexual violence, when it happens and is given a blind eye-"

Host: "Right."

Khadija Zahran: "-not just the assault- in other words, the familiar violence or the most familiar usage of violence is the physical assault that leads to killing. This is not considered- in other words, killing is considered the most extreme type of violence, but [violence] is not just the familiar types – There is no recognition [in Palestinian society] of psychological or sexual violence. There are assumptions that the husband has sexual rights to the wife, and she does not know that there is a concept of 'marital rape.' Her body is a right permitted to the man or the husband. Psychological violence is sometimes expressed in a look or a threat, sometimes perhaps in an expression that is considered- in other words, ‘You’re an animal,’ and he is making fun [of her]. Sometimes, as [Al-A'araj] said, a blind eye is turned or there is tolerance because we do not want to make the problem worse."

Bader Al-A'araj: "Especially in our society, this type of research hits a number of obstacles due to the sensitivity of the topic. For example, the concept of 'marital rape' – some countries like France sentence a husband who has raped his wife to 2 to 3 years. For us, this concept is not present in our social consciousness. Sometimes, When I teach at Birzeit [University] about violence against women and I speak about marital rape, some of the students are amazed at the very concept itself.  In other words, How could someone rape his wife? Therefore, I said that we- Not only do we still not have laws protecting women from violence – some of the types [of violence] are not even recognized in our social consciousness as being part of the types of violence."

[Official PA TV, Gently, Nov. 20, 2019]
 

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