By Katie Beiter, The Media Line
November 27, 2016
This weekend, countries around the world marked the United Nations (UN) International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The World Health Organization says that at least one in three women worldwide will fall victim to some type of violence due to her gender. In the Middle East, the rate of rape, sexual violence and other forms of violence against women is high.
While countries like Jordan are embarking on ways to change legislation regarding sexual violence and rape, cases of violence towards women have increased dramatically in war-torn regions like Syria and Iraq as various groups and leaders vie for control.
“Violence towards women has risen since the Arab Uprising (a region-wide movement, which began in 2011, calling for greater freedoms and democracy),” Dr. Nihaya Daoud, a researcher at Ben-Gurion University, told The Media Line. “When you have political violence, you also get domestic violence.”
In Iraq, analysts say that the rate of sexual violence and rape skyrocketed after the Islamic State (ISIS) took control over Mosul in 2014, as the terrorist group captured many minority women, like the Yazidi, as sex slaves.
According to Trude Falck, the Middle East and North Africa expert for the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), a human rights NGO, rape is often used as a weapon during war and has been used by ISIS and other power holders in the region as a means of control. Refugees, like those fleeing the almost six year conflict in Syria, and other vulnerable members of society, often fall victim to sexual abuse.
The law in Iraq stipulates that if a man rapes a woman and takes her as his wife he escapes any type of legal prosecution.
“The stigma and Iraqi society punishes women and not men, so women don’t talk about (rape or sexual violence),” Bahar Ali, the director of the Emma Organization for Human Development in Erbil, Iraq, told The Media Line. “Most women are raped by husbands, I am sure of that.”
According to Ali, there is a law that criminalizes domestic violence in Iraqi Kurdistan; however, “there are very few cases in the courthouses,” Ali told The Media Line.
Intimate Partner Violence, IPV, which is physical, psychological, social, economic, or even verbal violence between partners, is also an issue in Israel. According to a new study conducted by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, 40% of Israeli [sic] and Arab women aged 16-48 report being the victim of some type of IPV.
“Israel thinks that it is an ideal society and doesn’t think that these things happen, but this study shows that we are like any other country,” Dr. Nihaya Daoud, one of the researchers for the study, told The Media Line.
In the study, which was the first of its kind in Israel, researchers looked at all different types of IPV as well as external effects which might cause or perpetuate IPV. For example, the study noticed trends between violence in a woman’s neighbourhood and violence in her home along with how the lack of a good social network in the community, i.e. having people who would help those who are victims, could perpetuate violence.
Daoud and other researchers found that the rates of emotional and social or economic violence are higher than are the rates of physical or sexual violence (4.6%); however, emotional or verbal forms of abuse often lead to physical.
“Violence against women is an issue in Israel,” Daoud said. “If you look at other health issues that women face like diabetes or cancer, those rates are much lower than violence.”
Women who experience IPV have higher rates of depression and anxiety, the study found.
While the study shows that many women are victims of some type of violence in their personal relationships, Daoud believes that the numbers cited in the study are a gross underestimation.
“It’s very hard to get the numbers (of sexually assaulted women) because women do not wish to admit that they have been raped,” Falck of the NPA, told The Media Line. “(In some areas in the Middle East) the moment you are sexually abused, you are not anymore considered to be a decent person.”
While the rates of gender-based violence continue to remain high, many believe that both awareness and legislation are necessary to change the stigma and to prevent these types of violence from occurring.
In observance of the UN day to eliminate sexual violence, Jordan has embarked on a campaign known as the 16 days of activism against Gender-Based Violence. The over two week-long event in Jordan began on the International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women and is scheduled to end on International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2016.
A major issue propelling campaign in Jordan is Penal Code 308, which states, similarly to Iraq, that if a man rapes or sexually assaults a woman under 18, he can escape prosecution by marrying her and staying with her for three to five years. While the Jordanian parliament recently amended the law by criminalizing rape within marriage, it still allows those individuals who sexually assault women to escape punishment if it was “consensual.”
Activists led by the Sisterhood Is Global Institute (SIGI), an international think tank devoted to women’s advocacy, say this law and amendment, which the government says they did to protect those victims from their families, needs to change.
While there is a push for change, some analysts are sceptical.
“Nothing much is happening, actually,” Mohammed Hussainy, the director of the Identity Centre in Jordan, told The Media Line. “(This campaign) is limited to civil society groups and international organizations and social media, but it is not that public.”
“I don’t think we will see changes in the law,” Hussainy said.
Katie Beiter is a student journalist at The Media Line