25 November is universally recognized as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and this year's theme is “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!”. As in years past, the United Nations will mark the day by launching 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, notably violence against women and girls, which remains one of the most persistent human rights violation worldwide.
This year’s International Day comes at a time of continued suffering and hardship for women in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), whose situation has been compounded by unprecedented health and socio-economic crises due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The mandatory lockdown instituted to stem the spread of the COVID-19 has exacerbated the already catastrophic conditions caused by Israel’s increasingly stringent closure measures endured by the two million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. For instance, women workers were confined to their houses, which has further compromised their livelihoods and triggered additional financial turmoil as people are suffering from a worrying lack of food and essential medicines, as well as chronic water and electricity shortages. There have also been reports of insufficient shelter and lack of privacy for women staying in quarantine facilities.
Most relevantly, it has been reported that, since the outbreak of the pandemic, domestic violence against women and girls has intensified. In a fact sheet on “The Situation of Rural Women in the Gaza Strip”, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (Al Mezan) noted an increase in gender-based violence in connection with the measures to stop the outbreak of the pandemic as thirty-five women, constituting 62.5 percent of the statistical population, reported at least one form of domestic abuse ranging between physical, verbal, and financial abuse to neglect and threats. Similarly, several service institutions also confirmed the increased violence against women and indicated that, in some cases, it led to murder. As a result, several women have left their houses and sought help from competent authorities.
In this context, since the declaration of the state of emergency under the Presidential Decree of 5 March 2020, two women were killed, and 16 others were wounded in the Gaza Strip. Such incidents reflect the absence of the rule of law in Gaza.
In addition to pandemic-related issues, Palestinian women are faced with serious challenges and violations stemming from the repercussions of the protracted intra-Palestinian political division, inevitably slowing down efforts to eliminate violence against women and rehabilitate victims both physically and mentally. For example, precisely because of the inactivity of the Palestinian Legislative Council, no relevant policies for the protection of women have been promulgated. Besides, the lack of adequate financial resources meant limited funds for projects aimed at preventing gender-based violence, which eventually contributed to the death or injury of women.
Al Mezan’s documentation shows that 39 women were killed — eight in so-called “honor”-related murder crimes — and 121 others were wounded since April 2014, the year in which the State of Palestine accessed to several international human rights treaties, including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
In a separate context, violence against women has continued to occur due to Israel’s breaches of international humanitarian law. Israeli air, land, and naval attacks, as well as use of lethal and excessive force, have led to great human and material losses, as a result of which women have suffered lasting pain and experienced physical and physiological suffering. In the course of these attacks, many Palestinian women were injured, lost a family member, or had their homes, property, and farmland destroyed. Al Mezan reports that since April 2014, attacks by the Israeli forces had a very impact on women: 310 women were killed, 2,385 were injured, 12 were arrested; 2,663 houses owned by women were destroyed, 837 of which were totally destroyed and 1,826 were partially damaged; about 959 women lost their husbands.
Further, the 14-year Israeli blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip has also adversely impacted women. Their living standards have fallen dramatically and poverty and unemployment rates have increased, leading to a surge in violence against women. Many women have also been denied access to adequate medical care due to the frailty of the healthcare system in the Gaza Strip and the ongoing Israeli refusal to issue permits for patients seeking urgent medical treatment in the West Bank and Israel. Al Mezan’s documentation shows that since 1 April 2014, 24 women patients died after being deprived of medical treatment outside Gaza.
Al Mezan is deeply concerned about the seriousness of the existing humanitarian conditions, especially the deterioration of health services, as the Gaza Strip is experiencing severe shortages of medicines, medical supplies, diagnostic equipment (in particular COVID-19 screening tests), intensive care beds, and ventilators. Al Mezan stresses that the deterioration of humanitarian conditions leads to an increase in violence against women, violates their economic, social, and cultural rights, compounds their suffering, contributes to the decline of their status in society, limits their ability to interact, and threatens their opportunities for real participation in public life.
Accordingly, Al Mezan calls on the international community to uphold its moral and legal obligations towards the Palestinian people, particularly Palestinian women and girls, by taking all possible measures to end the closure and to activate the relevant mechanisms for the protection of women’s rights, especially their right to life, and by respecting the principle of State responsibility for eliminating violence against women.
Al Mezan also urges the Palestinian Authority to fully commit to its obligations under the CEDAW, to establish a plan for the implementation of the recommendations of the CEDAW Committee which urge states to provide women with opportunities to access justice mechanisms, and to finally adopt a law on the protection of the family from violence. Al Mezan also insists on activating the work of governmental centers, thereby providing protection and support for women’s rights, particularly their economic, social, and cultural rights, and guaranteeing them the rights to adequate work, health, education, and political participation, while also securing a decent life for women living in vulnerable areas.
Finally, Al Mezan calls on the international community to support the work of feminist movements, to further strengthen their efforts to raise awareness and reduce violence against women through the defense of their rights.