Violence against women in 2021: gendered assessment of increase. Graphic courtesy of Arab Barometer.*5
Along the same lines, clear majorities of women and men in most of the eleven countries surveyed by the Seventh Arab Barometer 2022, including Palestine, believe that women should not play the same role as men in both the public and private spheres. It also reported the widespread perception that violence against women was increasing in the region. When they were asked whether violence had increased, remained the same, or decreased, the most common answer was “increased” in seven out of eleven countries. In four countries, including Palestine (54 percent), more than half of citizens said violence has increased. In the three countries where an increase was not the most common answer, most citizens said they thought violence against women was staying the same in the community, with more than a quarter (26 percent) of the Palestinian participants choosing this response.*4
However, the gap between men’s and women’s perceptions of violence is significant. In all countries surveyed, women are significantly more likely than men to report that violence has increased (58 percent average in MENA; 49 percent in Palestine). While in most cases, men are more likely than women to say that violence has decreased over the past year. Although not surprising, the gap in perceptions of violence against women is worrying because men control most government decisions. When men underestimate the importance or prevalence of violence against women in the community, or believe that women lie about it, it is unlikely that this issue will be adequately addressed. It also indicates that if addressed it is unlikely to be done with the right attitudes and ethical practice on the side of service providers.
Women’s perceptions resonate well with the reality of violence against women. The most recent national survey on gender-based violence (GBV) showed that around two-thirds (59.3 percent) of Palestinian women experienced some form of violence in 2019, compared with 37 percent in 2011.*6 This is the situation years after Palestine ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) by Presidential Decree No. 19 of 2009 and acceded to it in 2014. The action taken to accede has not been published in the national gazette, which makes it nonbinding.
On the policy level, both the National Strategy to Combat Violence Against Women 2011–2019 and the National Policy Agenda 2017–2022 include the explicit objective to promote gender equality and justice and to combat violence. A cross-sectoral strategy was formulated and national protocols were developed to create mechanisms in the health, social, and police sectors for dealing with women survivors of violence through a national referral system for women survivors of violence (No. 18, 2013).*7 However, the approach by which GBV is addressed is evidently selective and inconsistent, with little coordination between the various actors. Only less sensitive and non-challenging GBV issues are addressed, focusing on women with the almost full exclusion of other involved parties. Perpetrators, for example, the majority of whom are men, are not on the agendas of either policy makers or service providers. Information on rehabilitation services that would be offered to perpetrators or to children who have witnessed domestic violence cannot be found anywhere. One of the main inconsistencies is related to institutional practices: no resources are invested into the creation of a favorable and supportive environment for service-seeking survivors of violence. This manifests in the poor attitudes and behavior of service providers towards the women survivors of violence in many service sectors.
In November 2019, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, with generous financial support from the Italian government, initiated the establishment of a national observatory system to maintain a unified national register of GBV incidents.*8 This resource could form a strong base for planning and policy formulation processes. Lengthy discussions were held about how to ensure confidentiality, what forms to use for documentation, what coding system to use, who should be able to access what information, and related questions. However, progress stalled before the system’s completion, and information on the status of the work is not available.
Although Palestine joined CEDAW in 2014, the legal system still does not protect women’s civil and criminal rights. A mobilization and strong opposition to the Family Protection Law began in 2019 when a law raising the minimum age for marriage had been passed. It is widely believed that the Family Protection Law and other related laws are spaces in which it is less critical for people to voice opposition to the PA’s policies and performance. With women having less political power, most politicians don’t bother to support women’s rights or reform regressive laws, particularly as their patriarchal mindset does not assign value to efforts exerted with regard to such “insignificant” matters. This indicates that the PNA has made only a formal, rather than a substantial or actionable commitment to combating VAW. Improving the legal status of Palestinian women requires the will of political actors to pass and enforce the Family Protection Law and amend other laws, including the Personal Status Law and Penal Code. Establishing a gender-sensitive Family Protection Court with qualified judges from both sexes who are able to apply a gender lens to their work is another utterly needed area for government action.
The PNA’s indulgent and distant approach to social resistance, anti-feminist discourse, and growing fundamentalism has greatly weakened awareness and sensitization to women’s rights and efforts to combat VAW. Patriarchal expressions in dominant societal norms that support rigid gender roles, ongoing attempts to silence women’s rights organizations, public attacks and hostility towards feminist groups and individual feminist activists, and the apparent lack of state protection are all widespread security and societal concerns that the government must address.