Community of Practice in Building Referral Systems for Women Victims of Violence

Monday, May 9, 2011
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East:
Western Asia


Violence against Women (VAW) is „an extreme manifestation of pervasive discrimination against women and girls‟ It . is prevalent in all countries, rich and poor, and is an obstacle to reaching many development goals including the Millennium Development Goals. It is a violation of human rights and threatens the rights, health, and well-being of women and girls and can only be eliminated by promoting women‟s equality and empowerment, and ensuring that women‟s human rights are fulfilled and discrimination addressed. Most women suffer from violence in silence with little or no recourse to justice, care or support.

The United Nations has been to the forefront of addressing VAW, and the UN Security Council has adopted a number of resolutions. The Arab League has adopted the Arab Network for Family Protection whose aim is to eliminate domestic violence.

Similarly, the Arab Women Organisation developed a strategy that "stress[es] the need to protect women from violence and to prevent it through laws, legislation, awareness, training, dissemination of the women's rights, the culture of non-violence, and provision of national data, research and statistics on the phenomenon"(Dec 2009).

In 2008, UN Secretary-General launched the Campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women, 2008-2015 with the overall objective to raise public awareness and increase the political will and resources for preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls in all parts of the world. UNRWA is committed to working to achieve the outcomes of the UN Framework for Action.

Increasingly studies are showing a link between the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and increasing levels of violence within the home. The continuing . Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, restrictions on mobility, the ensuing inability of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to provide security, and the failure to reach a just peace between Israel and Palestine, undermines Palestinian rule of law, and the ability of the PA to protect all its citizens.

Two major issues that function as barriers to addressing VAW are a) the silence that surrounds the violence: VAW is tolerated by society, is often perceived as the norm and as a „private‟ affair. Fear, shame, stigma and the honour of the woman and her family prevent women from seeking assistance or taking action against perpetrators – husbands, brothers, uncles. b) In most contexts, perpetrators are immune from prosecution due to a combination of weak laws and judicial process that fail to hold perpetrators accountable; social and political disorder; and lack of impartiality or functioning of judiciary or police. This impunity sends a message that VAW is acceptable, or the norm, reinforces inequalities as well as being a denial of justice. Moreover, VAW is not an isolated event but girls and women are at risk from violence throughout their lives whether physical, sexual, psychological or economic.

The legal framework is failing to provide protection to women in all UNRWA‟s fields of operation. Many of the laws that discriminate against women are deemed to be outdated and need to reflect the Palestinian Authority‟s commitment to equal rights for all its people. In the case of the Occupied Palestinian Territories the current legal framework is complex with civilian law having its origins in Jordanian, Egyptian and Israeli law for the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem respectively. There is no law to protect women against violence or psychological abuse, and some current laws explicitly militate against women‟s rights or women attaining justice e.g., in cases of what are called „honour killings‟ and rape.

At country level, a momentum is growing to tackle VAW. A law providing protection to women was passed in Jordan in 2008. In January 2010 the Palestinian Cabinet annulled the law that permits mitigating factors in cases of honour killings and has clearly stated that it is murder. They have also called for a review of civil laws that discriminate against women. A draft law has been prepared in Lebanon which, if passed, will provide protection to all women living in Lebanon, including refugee women.

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Community of Practice in Building Referral Systems for Women Victims of Violenc