Addressing increasing gender-based violence in Gaza

To mark the international campaign of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV), we highlight how the Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA), Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)’s local partner, is filling the critical gaps of protection, health and psychosocial services for women suffering from GBV in Gaza.

Globally, one in three women will experience GBV throughout their lifetime, including physical or sexual abuse. In Gaza, patriarchal gender norms and gender inequalities contribute to GBV, which is exacerbated by a deteriorating humanitarian, political and economic situation, including the 14-year illegal closure and blockade.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 37.5% of currently married or ever-married women (women who have been married at least once in their lives, although their current marital status may not be ‘married’) in Gaza were subjected to at least one form of violence by their husbands in 2019, including psychosocial, physical, sexual, economic and social violence.

The COVID-19 pandemic and Israel’s 11-day military offensive in May has overburdened the healthcare system, including those providing support to the most vulnerable women affected by GBV. This has led to an increased demand on the women’s health centre run by CFTA in Bureij refugee camp – the only centre in central Gaza that provides comprehensive services to women, from sexual and reproductive health services to psychosocial support.

25-year-old Jana* from Deir al-Balah, which is close to Bureij, was forced to marry a man she hardly knew when she was 19. After enduring two years of violence from her husband, he divorced her because she couldn’t have children. After her father refused to have “a divorced daughter” back at his house – which is a social stigma in their conservative community – Jana was forced into a second marriage with a male relative.

Jana frequently suffered physical and psychological abuse from her new husband. She regularly fled to her neighbour’s house for protection but was repeatedly returned to her husband's house. Jana was in a dilemma of whether to get divorced and potentially experience the same situation as before, or to tolerate the physical and psychological violence. She lived with anxiety and fear and tried to isolate herself as much as she could.

The signs of the physical violence Jana had suffered were visible and after hearing about the services provided by CFTA’s women’s health centre from a neighbour, she sought assistance. Her case manager at the centre conducted a comprehensive assessment and realised that Jana’s life was at risk. She was recommended to stay in a women’s refuge until the case manager’s team were able to contact her father and ensure that Jana would be safe to return back to her family home, where her situation would be monitored.

“It’s hard to describe the feeling of returning home after the ugly feeling of suffering and misery. I had really hard times, but I am getting better now,” said Jana. “I started sleeping better at the safe house, I felt empowered by the team and, most importantly, I am accepted by my family again now.”

The women’s health centre provided Jana with psychological support, health and education services, and legal counselling. When her situation improved, the team contacted Jana’s husband and invited him to individual counselling sessions. It took a long time to convince him, but he finally accepted, and the team was able to educate Jana’s husband about women's rights and the impact of GBV on women and society in general. He has since asked Jana to return to his home and have a new start – a result that was not expected by the team.

Despite her experiences, Jana is feeling hopeful: “To every woman suffering from GBV, do not let violence control you. Be aware of your rights and stand up for your choices. Each of us has a story, and every story has a beginning and an end. No matter how difficult the beginnings were, we must move forward to overcome these difficulties, to end suffering and live a fulfilled life.”

Please consider supporting the work of CFTA by making a donation to MAP today.

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*Name changed to protect the person’s identity.

Photo: Women participating in a workshop at CFTA's women's health centre. 

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