Abuse of women still rife in Palestinian life, says study

Sanaa Umar fidgets with her handbag as she describes the daunting task of making a new start when her own father blames her for failing to keep the violent and abusive man who married her at 15 and divorced her at 16.

"My husband started beating me without any reason in the second week of the marriage," says Sanaa, now 17, from Beach refugee camp. Sanaa is not her real name - she is too frightened to be identified. "He beat me with a stick all over my body. It was like he was controlled by a genie. Even his own mother tried to stop him but she couldn't."

The man, a relatively well-off 22-year old, had seen her at a wedding and asked her - very poor - parents for her hand in marriage. Her father, who had made her finish school at 12 and had also often beaten her, was happy. "I agreed because my father agreed," Sanaa explains.

But all along her new husband was conducting a relationship with another 15-year-old girl whose father had forbidden the marriage. At one point, her husband beat Sanaa so badly that she was unable to get out of bed for a week, before he eventually dumped her back at her parents' home.

Thanks to the small but valiant Gaza Women's Empowerment Programme, Sanaa, now living with her parents, has been given a second chance and is training for an independent life as a hairdresser and beautician. At first her father opposed her taking the course because he didn't want her status publicly on display, bringing shame, as he saw it, on the family. "Divorced women have a bad reputation," Sanaa explains.

But while he came round, under pressure from Fatma's mother, he is still verbally abusive. "He makes me guilty because I didn't keep my husband. He uses bad words I cannot repeat."

Sanaa's experience - the pressure into an early marriage, the abuse by father and husband, and the stigma attaching to the victim rather than the assailant - is all too common in Gaza, where more than one in five women say they suffer physical domestic violence but there is not a single women's shelter. A Question of Security, published today by Human Rights Watch (HRW), excoriates the Palestinian police and justice system for the near-total failure to protect women in both Gaza and the West Bank from abuse ranging from "honour killings" to rape, incest, beatings and sexual abuse.

While accepting that closures, economic blockades and bombardment by Israel have weakened Palestinian institutions, HRW strongly rejects that as an "excuse" for long-standing and discriminatory - mainly Jordanian and Egyptian-derived - laws that "condone and perpetuate" such violence or the "virtual absence" of polices to "prevent violence, assist victims and hold perpetrators accountable".

It points out the law drastically reduces penalties for men who kill or hurt their wives or female relatives for committing adultery, offers rapists complete impunity if they agree to marry their victims, allows only male relatives to file incest charges on behalf of children and requires mandatory prosecution for domestic violence if the victim is hospitalised for more than 20 days. The report says the police routinely "mediate" cases of sexual and physical abuse by returning victims to the "care" of their attackers - often in collaboration with tribal or clan leaders. It also condemns the use of - sometimes enforced- virginity testing, whether to exculpate assailants of sexual assault if the tests prove negative, or to dismiss victims' complaints if they prove positive

Only 1 per cent of polled Palestinian women said they had lodged complaints. And of 85 reported cases of rape in 2003, only one resulted in a conviction. There have been 98 officially reported cases of "honour killing" or other domestic murders of women in Gaza and the West Bank since 2000.

* A Palestinian suicide bomber blew herself up yesterday near Israeli troops in Beit Hanoun where Israeli forces killed two women acting as human shields for militants. The Israeli army said one soldier was slightly wounded. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has travelled to the Gaza Strip for talks with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on a unity government.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine