As the Gaza conflict continues, it strikes me that so few are talking about the situation of Palestinian women. A quick look in our database shows—based on previous flare-ups of this ongoing conflict—that women and children are disproportionately at risk. In 2009, “The majority of the 1,400 reported dead and 5,000 wounded comprise women and children,”[i] and in 2005 it was noted that “manifestations of the security breakdown include…an unprecedented rise in the rates of domestic violence and murders of women.”[ii] So not only are Palestinian women at an increased risk of dying in wartime violence, but political violence can become domestic, taking the danger into their very homes.
There are many causes to the disproportionate danger women face in this and many other conflicts—certainly the strained access to medical, and thus maternal, healthcare plays a significant role—but the prevalence of domestic violence in Palestine can help us understand why women seem to constitute such a large percentage of casualties.
Domestic Violence in Palestine Domestic violence is rampant in Palestine. Again, a look in our database reveals some important statistics:
- “A 2009 study published by the Gaza-based Palestinian Women’s Information and Media Centre found that 67 percent of Palestinian women reported being subjected to verbal violence on a regular basis, 71 percent to psychological violence, 52.4 percent to physical violence, and 14.5 percent to sexual violence.”[iii]
- “51% of women in Gaza City experienced domestic violence in 2011.[iv]
- “A number of commentators affirm that there is a link between the militarization of life, increased unemployment, poverty and restriction of movement due to Israeli occupation and Intifada, and the increase in domestic violence against women and girls, including rape and incest, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. According to a survey of 4,212 households in the OPT conducted by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics between December 2005 and January 2006, 23.3% of married women in the West Bank and 22.6%in Gaza reported to have been victims of physical violence during the year 2005, 11.5% (West Bank) and 9.7% (Gaza) reported to have experienced sexual violence at the hands of their husbands. Only 1.2% had filed a formal complaint.”[v]
Given the prevalence of domestic violence in Palestine and the increasing societal violence in the ongoing conflict with Israel, can we imagine the fear these women face on a daily basis? In my work at WomanStats, I’ve read reports of Palestinian women being tortured and killed for using a cell phone,[vi] or brutally murdered for suspicions of infidelity that were found to be untrue[vii]—all of this in times of “peace.” And these murders were committed by the women’s family members. Certainly underlying every Hamas missile and Israeli blockade, behind every new, horrifying flare-up of this ongoing dispute, there is a greater war that is not on the battlefield. It is a war waged in women’s homes and on women’s bodies.
This is more than a Palestinian problem. If you need further proof, check out the Witness page of the Women Under Siege project, which investigates “how rape and other forms of sexualized violence are used as tools in genocide and conflict throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.”[viii] Once I began reading these stories I couldn’t stop. Over and over again the same theme played out—women’s bodies becoming battlefield in almost every conflict. As we watch in horror the events unfolding in Gaza, the status of women can give us important insight into the fundamental causes of this never-ending war. But WomanStats is asking a question that few others seem to be asking: in a society where over half of women experience violence in their own homes, can we really expect peace? Or more importantly—what does peace mean? When the missiles cease and the Gaza sky turns quiet again, but women continue to be terrorized in their own homes, will we declare peace? We say no: peace is not peace if women are not safe. If this systematic violence against women continues in Palestine and in Israel—we could certainly write another article about Israeli women, with many of the same conclusions—it is guaranteed that the sky will light up again and more will die. The seeds of violence begin at home, so that is where the battle must be fought.
What can we do?
You may have noticed that we have a new catchphrase at WomanStats: “It’s more than just research.” We hope to express to you how deeply we care about the work we do.
I wish you could have been present at our meetings this past week. Every couple years we get all the top researchers on our project together, and we discuss the progress and the future of WomanStats. This was my first time attending this meeting, and I was astonished by the palpable energy in the room. These are men and women dedicated to the truth that women’s rights are human rights, and that protecting the rights of women is essential to building a peaceful, thriving nation.
Women’s rights are not some periphery issue: they are central to everything we hope to accomplish in alleviating poverty, in stopping conflict, and in building a peaceful world. By creating the largest database on the status of women worldwide, we aim to push policymakers to see that it is in everyone’s interest to focus on the safety and prosperity of women worldwide.
We know in our hearts that the fate of nations lies in the safety of women. The WomanStats Project makes this linkage visible and demonstrable.
Please support us. Donate if you can. Follow us on Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest. Talk about our work with your friends and colleagues. If you’re a student or an academic yourself, use our database!
And always, whoever you are and however you found this project, continue to ask the question we always ask. In any conflict, in every report you read, ask: what about the women? See them when no one else does, and speak up for them. And most importantly, respect and encourage the women in your own life, be that your wife or your mother or your daughter or your coworker. Listen to them; support them. They are a powerful force for good.
[i] Geneva, Switzerland, 2009, CPC, Thematic briefing on ‘Women and Armed Conflict’ between the CEDAW Committee and NGOs, Women’s International league for Peace and Freedom, International Women’s Tribune Centre, International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific, Movement of Indigenous Women, Guatemala. Para. 18-19.
[ii] 2005, Arab Human Development Report, United Nations Development Programme, RN. Pg. 46.
[iii] Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, //www.ipsnews.net/2012/08/in-peace-palestinian-women-under-attack/, (Published 16 August 2012), (Accessed 11 April 2013), Inter Press Service News Agency, In Peace, Palestinian Women Under Attack, LAE. 6.
[iv] Karrie Kehoe, Publication date November 12, 2013,http://www.trust.org/item/20131111115632-hn9t2/?source=spotlight-writaw, FACTBOX-Women’s rights in the Arab world, Access date January 13, 2014) 15.0
[v] 2007, GLOBAL REPORT ON SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN ARMED CONFLICT, Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces, CMF) Middle East, 3
[vi] Wednesday, July 29, 2009, Al-Aribya, //www.alarabiya.net/articles/2009/07/29/80253.html, Palestinian tortured to death by father for ‘honor’, GKD) [vii] http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1120/p01s01-wome.html, 2007, Christian Monitor, November 26, 2007, As order slides, Palestinian women face honor killings, ACB) http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1120/p01s01-wome.html