25 November is universally recognized as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This year, the United Nations (UN) will mark the day by launching a 16-day campaign with the title “Orange the World: #HearMeToo”. This campaign is an extension of the “Unite to End Violence against Women” annual initiative that was launched by the UN Secretary General in 2008. This year’s campaign aims to promote the dialogue about gender-based violence by raising public awareness about the urgency to reduce violence against women and girls, including through collaboration between community actors, governmental agencies, and international organizations. The campaign ends on the 10th of December, which coincides with the Human Rights Day.
25 November 2018, nevertheless, marks the continued suffering of women in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Palestinian women are exposed to serious human rights violations, including to their right to life. House demolitions disproportionately affect Palestinian women, who often suffer from forcible displacement, homelessness, and loss of privacy during displacement. They are also exposed to injury and death amid Israeli forces’ use of excessive and lethal force.
In addition, women are often victims of complex family situations that emanate from the aggravating humanitarian conditions. In the largely patriarchal society, women and girls are also affected by household violence as well as political violence, which often lead to the loss of family members.
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the number of women and girls in the Gaza Strip is 936,388, 49.3% of the population. Information by PCBS shows that a large percentage of these women have been exposed to human rights violations in the form of killing, injury, detention, loss of family members, or partial or total damage of shelter. Hundreds of women and girls were killed, while thousands suffered from physical and psychological distress, as a consequence of Israel’s frequent military attacks on the Gaza Strip.
In the context of the Great Return March (GRM) demonstrations, Israeli forces continue the use of excessive force in policing unarmed protesters, including women—a major challenge to the UN’s efforts to eliminate violence against women. Documentation by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights shows that from the start of the GRM demonstrations on 30 March 2018, 512 women have been injured by Israeli forces.
In Gaza’s context of protracted closure and violence in Gaza, efforts to challenge violence against women are hindered by conflict. According to Al Mezan’s documentation, 457 women were killed in Gaza since 2008, while 1,501 women were affected by the loss of family members who contributed to the family’s income. The unprecedented unemployment rates in Gaza, which affect women disproportionately, have pushed many into abject poverty. Women often bear the burden of social and economic difficulties facing them and their families.
Furthermore, 28,286 women were displaced after their homes had been destroyed in military attacks by Israeli forces, with their suffering further exacerbated due to the very slow reconstruction process.
The implications of the restrictions on freedom of movement are severe, with women often deprived from access to medical treatment or family life. According to Al Mezan’s monitoring and documentation, 20 women have died since the beginning of 2017 after being denied access to hospitals and appropriate medical treatment outside of Gaza.
Palestinian women are also faced with serious challenges and violations within Palestinian society. Eleven years of political division and disrespect of the rule of law have had a very negative impact on living conditions and social and economic development in Gaza. The protracted political divide has contributed to gradual erosion of the perceptions of women’s role in society. Domestic violence often goes unreported. Particularly worrying is the recurrence of honor-related murder crimes. Since the beginning of 2008, Al Mezan has documented 24 cases of honor related killings in the Gaza Strip alone.
Field data indicates that efforts to end violence against women are slowed down by numerous obstacles and challenges: the continued Israeli occupation, the internal Palestinian division, the accumulation of economic problems including lack of jobs and the high unemployment rates, and marginalization of vulnerable groups and people with special needs.
Al Mezan calls on the international community to uphold its moral and legal obligations towards the civilian population in the oPt, especially women and girls. The international community must take effective measures to protect the rights of Palestinian women and girls, especially the right to life. The international community must ensure that violations of human rights against Palestinian women are investigated properly and perpetrators are held to account.
Al Mezan calls on the Palestinian authorities to promote and protect gender equality, to eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination against women, and to create participatory strategies to empower women and address gender-based violence and discrimination without impediments. The foundation of a just and prosperous society depends on its treatment of and the role played by women. Women must be protected from persecution and discrimination at all times, and governments must invest particular efforts to ensure that legal protection is effectively observed to end violence against women in par with the relevant international human rights standards.
Al Mezan calls on the Palestinian Authority, representing the State of Palestine, to uphold the international obligations emanating from human rights instruments, especially the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and, particularly in this context, to urgently tackle urgent honor killings.