Part II: Gender-based Violence and Intl. Women’s Day
The official United Nations theme for International Women’s Day 2013 is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.” Women leaders from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon were asked how government and civil society can combat gender-based violence. Nearly all of them called for tougher legislation to criminalize violence against women.
Egyptian women stressed a need for civil society organizations to raise awareness of women’s rights and change popular attitudes towards domestic abuse. Lebanese women called for legislation to override sectarian personal status laws that sometimes allow abuse and marital rape. A Jordanian lawmaker noted a lack of shelters for abused women. The following are the women’s responses arranged by country.
Civil society and women’s non-governmental organizations have primarily spearheaded efforts to combat gender-based violence. The government should step up and take the following the steps:
Enact legislation that criminalizes all forms of gender-based violence and discrimination
Draft a plan of action with specific objectives and a time frame for allocating adequate human and financial resources to enforce the legislation
- Empower organizations working on women’s issues and partner with civil society
- Raise awareness of women’s rights through civic education and media initiatives
- Foster international cooperation on women’s issues
Ending violence against women will require political will. Liberal parties should nominate women who can voice their experiences in parliament and change unjust laws. Civil society organizations will need recruit men who will champion women’s rights. If an independent national council for women is established, it could help change society’s mentality.
The government’s inaction on gender-based violence has allowed perpetrators of violence to act with impunity. Women have had little to no access to the justice system on this issue. But protection and rehabilitation for victims are more important than punishing criminals.
Civil society should engage men and religious leaders to help change popular attitudes toward gender-based violence. Organizations should also provide legal and psychological support to women, who frequently deny that they are victims and blame themselves for their situation.
The government should draft laws criminalizing violence against women and hold authorities more accountable for protecting women. Civil society should undertake outreach programs and advocacy campaigns to change the prevailing mentality. Organizations should target community leaders, households, religious leaders, legislators and government officials to eliminate all forms of violence against women.
The government should enact tough legislation to stop all types of violence against women. Authorities should deal seriously with all complaints and punish offenders. Civil society should help rehabilitate female victims of violence so they can live a normal life. Male offenders should go also be rehabilitated so they change their behavior. Civil society should also raise society’s awareness of gender issues. Organizations should inform women of their rights and teach them how to defend themselves.
Violence against women is a common problem among people from all faiths, regions and backgrounds in Lebanon. Lebanon’s constitution does not contain a family law. So each religious community has its own personal status code. If an abused woman goes to the police, they cannot take her complaint. Abused women tend to stay at home and carry the insulting burden.
The Lebanese government should implement an overriding family law and institute civil marriage. Then state laws would protect women from domestic abuse. The government should also establish shelters for women in cities and rural areas.
Gender-based violence is a serious issue in Lebanon. We have no laws or provisions outlawing domestic violence. The authorities hesitate to interfere in matters of domestic violence. And women hesitate to report to authorities when they are abused by another family member.
Civil society organizations and some activists within the government have submitted proposals for laws on domestic violence. The projects are being discussed in a parliamentary subcommittee. The adoption of the law, however, seems remote because stakeholders are unable to agree on some contentious points.
One of the main points of conflict is whether to outlaw marital rape. A faction argues there is no rape within marriage. Another point of contention is the provision stating that personal status laws—which govern family relations and differ according to each religious community—would override a law banning domestic violence.
The following measures should be taken to combat gender-based violence:
- Enact a protective law, which does not contain provisions for personal status laws to override it;
- Conduct awareness campaigns to encourage individuals to report domestic violence to the authorities;
- Establish an entity within the police department that would specialize in such cases;
- Provide a shelter and employment alternative to victims in case they report abuse and consequently are not able to stay at their home.
Gender-based violence is more prominent than it was a year few years ago. Real cooperation between government and civil society is necessary. But the government does not seem to understand the role civil society can play in combating gender-based violence. The United Nations must help Iraqi civil society to push amendments to laws which basically legalize acts such as honor killing.
But amending laws is not enough to end the violence. The Kurdistan Regional Government amended the law. Yet the number of honor killings has risen. It will be hard to criminalize violence against women if society’s mentality does not change.
A draft law is in the works to protect women from domestic violence. Women are also waiting for the Iraqi government to approve a national strategy to combat violence against women. There is also an initiative to create a body to promote gender equality and reduce violence against women. These government actions could improve women’s status. But the problem is that women’s issues are regarded as luxuries in Iraq.
The government should take the following steps to combat gender-based violence:
- Expedite submission of the draft law "Criminalization of Violence Against Women" to parliament to differentiate between violence against women and other crimes.
- Promote and support the role of the Family Protection Department. Staff it with women specialized in dealing with cases of bodily, sexual, verbal and psychological violence.
- Amend Jordan’s penal code to ban violence against women under the pretense of honor.
- Establish new shelters for women exposed to family violence that are separate from prisons or corrective facilities.
- Start a national hotline to record incidents of violence against women.
Civil society should:
- Raise awareness of women’s rights and relevant laws, especially among youth.
- Form groups to pressure government and parliament for the amendment of legislation to end violence against women.