fbpx

Domestic Violence and Arab Women’s false choices during COVID-19

Aseel Alayli – Gender Activist
June 1, 2020
The "Covid 19" crisis provides the opportunity for Arab countries to turn family violence from a private family affair into a public issue.

Domestic violence is back on the radar in the public spheres across MENA due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, this crisis could serve as an opportunity to transform domestic violence from a private matter to a public concern in Arab countries and a chance to reform unequal gender relations through the elimination of long-standing gender norms.

Domestic Violence Historically 

Domestic violence was a critical problem in MENA region even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Around 15% of households across MENA include cases of domestic violence according to the Arab Barometer’s survey conducted in 2018-2019. Familial violence is relatively high in Yemen (26%), Morocco (25%), and Egypt (23%) while self-reported rates are lower in Libya (7%), Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia (6% each).

Domestic violence can be targeted at both men and women and varies by country. In households where domestic violence occurs, the percent of domestic violence reports that include female victims is 82% in Lebanon, 72% in Egypt, 71% in Morocco, and 66% in Algeria. By contrast, the percent of domestic violence reports that include female victims is 34% in Libya, and 30% in Yemen.

Traditional Patriarchal Culture

Just like COVID-19 virus, gender-based violence affects women of all backgrounds. However, the situation is distinctly dismal in the Arab region because of the deeply rooted traditional patriarchal culture. For example, the majority of men (70%) in Arab countries say that husbands, rather than wives, should have the final say on family decisions, according to the Arab Barometer’s public opinion survey conducted last year. Moreover, many women across the region also agree with this statement. In six out of the twelve countries surveyed, more than half of the women believe that a husband should be the ultimate decision maker. This belief is consistent with sexist mentalities and male domination that in turn makes violence against women more likely to occur.

Faced with these circumstances, women at risk are left with a difficult dilemma – either stay in and suffer at the hands of their abusers or escape with no guaranteed safe outcome in the midst of the pandemic. However, these two options ultimately represent a false choice.

False Choice

Currently, with the prolonged quarantine in many countries, victims are often spending more time in the same house as their abuser, and incidents of abuse against women are increasing. Faced with these circumstances, women at risk are left with a difficult dilemma – either stay in and suffer at the hands of their abusers or escape with no guaranteed safe outcome in the midst of the pandemic. However, these two options ultimately represent a false choice. The underlying issue is that Arab governments have long failed to prioritize women’s health and protection in their emergency response planning and strategies. There are few if any readily available safe spaces for the women who suffer abuse to turn to, while the police and the medical centers are not well equipped or prepared for accommodating them. On the other hand, NGOs fighting for women’s rights in MENA are trying to fill in this gap, while adapting alternative methods given the social distancing restrictions. These methods include providing hotlines, online and phone counseling support, connecting victims with lawyers, allocating a temporary shelter, and launching awareness campaigns. Yet, still many women are not turning to the NGOs for help.

A Private Family Matter

Complicating this problem is the fact that domestic violence is still considered a private family matter across most Arab countries. Arab Barometer’s survey conducted in 2018-2019 shows that the majority of women victims across MENA (88%) turn to their female or male relatives for support. Only a minority of women across the region (12%) consider complaining to the local police about the violence. Lebanon stands out as an exception where nearly half of women victims say they report domestic violence to the local police (49%).  This fact implies that, where they exist, existing laws against domestic abuse are not being widely enforced, and the abuser is exempt from punishment for their actions. In addition, only a minority of abused women (6%) across MENA go to the hospital for help, while almost none seeks support from local organizations. The COVID-19 pandemic has served to highlight the inadequacy of the support measures taken by the Arab authorities to protect survivors even before the outbreak. 

Turning Crisis into Opportunity

The COVID-19 crisis provides an opportunity for Arab authorities to transform domestic violence from a private family matter to a public concern. As of 2019, only six countries in MENA have passed laws to combat domestic violence. According to local women’s rights activists and Human Rights Watch, these laws have several shortcomings that undermine their effectiveness to deter abusers from inflicting harm on women. As a short-term solution, authorities in Arab countries need to affirmatively address domestic violence as a public health crisis. They need to establish a solid collaboration between the police, criminal justice system, health sector and local women’s rights organizations to provide immediate relief and adequate support for women survivors of violence. In the long run, another major impediment to overcome is the discriminatory personal status laws in the Arab countries. Unless these laws are reformed and gender roles realigned toward equality, domestic violence will persist and Arab women victims will remain discouraged from seeking help outside the family.

Aseel Alayli is a Gender Activist, and Communications Manager for the Arab Barometer at Princeton University.

الأكثر قراءة

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

Related articles

Seljuk Mohammad – Jebrill Dayoub
Travel agencies and tourism companies in Sweden continue offer trips to Syria, while cooperating with internationally sanctioned airliner Cham Wings.
Nayla Rida
I can only imagine what the multiplication of stories and cultural representation can mean for the queer Arab community, who has long struggled to reconcile its two identities in a way that feels safe, but there is no doubt that Ahmad left an immutable legacy to this fight – and he’s not done yet.
Nada Mohamad
Anti-vaxxers are not a new thing. In the late 19th century tens of thousands of people took to the streets in England to protest against smallpox vaccinations. What many anti-vaxxers today do not realize is that their resistance threatens the life of others and could bring diseases that have long been forgotten … thanks to vaccination.
Maisar Aladani
The Yazidi Women Survivors Law is a victory, yet many question marks remain. Will the law be implemented or remain ink on paper? How will the land be distributed? And what to do with the children born as a result of rape?
Daraj
The Riad Salameh saga continues: Swiss documents request Lebanon’s cooperation to investigate alleged embezzlement and money laundering worth hundreds of millions.
Tracy Jawad
Refugees will continue to face the perils of their journey, chasing a future stolen from them back home.
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
Share on email
لتصلكم نشرة درج الى بريدكم الالكتروني