Violence against women: A daily occurrence that needs tackling

GBV  Violence against women
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Unspeakable crimes were recently committed against women in some Arab countries. On June 21, Naira Ashraf, an Egyptian university student, was slaughtered in broad daylight on campus for rejecting a marriage proposal. Two days after this, Iman Irshaid was shot in the Jordan University of Science and Technology after being threatened online, and on June 26, Raneen Sal’ous was found dead in her family home in Nablus. Though Palestinian authorities are still investigating that case, local media reported that she was killed for rejecting a forced marriage to a relative. اضافة اعلان

In Irshaid’s case, Jordanians are outraged, and rightfully so, but their anger is misdirected. Social media is bristling with comments slamming authorities and saying that they feel unsafe in their country. While concern is justified, the fact of the matter is that Jordan is a relatively safe country that records murder rates lower than those in the US and Canada.

Does this mean Irshaid’s death was just a one-off incident? Absolutely not. The fact that similar incidents occur in other countries with similar cultures indicates that this is a problem that comes from the way in which our society is structured, from a public and private standpoint.

“We only care about violence against women when it involves a death. But domestic violence and the discrimination that leads to it are frequent, and this is routinely ignored,” said Hadeel Abdulaziz, co-founder and manager of the Justice Center for Legal Aid, which provides physical protection, awareness programs and legal counseling for vulnerable individuals. Operating since 2008, the center runs 13 legal clinics throughout the country. Though the organization helps all individuals regardless of background, 70 percent of those who knock on the center’s doors are women, due to lack of legal awareness and financial means. Through the nature of her work, Abdelaziz has seen it all when it comes to violence against women in Jordan.

Speaking of what inspired her to open the center, she said “personally, injustice just infuriates me, I am very passionate about justice”. But the specific time in her life that led her to this experience was when, as a court administrator in a USAID-funded project she saw how easy it was for victims who could not afford court fees to simply “give up”.

The single most important incident was one of a father who tormented his family. When the father would argue with his wife, he would “punish her’’ by taking the children’s hands and putting them on a burning stove. The eldest child had a deformed hand, and predictably, the couple divorced. However, Jordan has a personal status law that stipulates that the father receives custody of the child past the age of 12, and the eldest, traumatized, boy was now 13. The mother went into a state of panic wherein she threatened to kill them all and herself, rather than have the poor child return to the father. Abdelaziz and co. represented her, and they won the case. From that day on, Abdelaziz pledged to fight the inequitable court system and its intersectional bias that targets the poor, women, the disabled and everyone else who is disadvantaged in our society.
We only care about violence against women when it involves a death. But domestic violence and the discrimination that leads to it are frequent, and this is routinely ignored.
Abdelaziz is careful when talking about “increasing” violence in recent times. She has seen unspeakable violence throughout her career; it could simply be that we talk about it more now. What is important to note, however, is that violence is a cycle.

Time and time again, Abdelaziz has observed that children who were abused become abusive parents, women hit by their husbands take it out on their children and so on. Oftentimes, judicial neglect of the case is what eventually leads to a death.

“Firstly someone comes to us and we hear her husband slapped her, then we find bruises, then a broken arm, and over time we hear she died.” While her justice center always ensures that victims who come to it are protected, the system as a whole has failed to do so on numerous occasions.

Police often sympathize with abusers during questioning, asking domestic abuse victims questions that make them self doubt. Defendants often blame their actions on anger, drunkenness and the like. To some in our society, this is perfectly acceptable. It is for this reason, Abdelaziz says, that over 60 percent of defendants in lower level cases get off.

The perception that a man must dominate the women in his life is informed by cultural concepts, societal pressure and even media.

“Go look up Syrian telenovelas on YouTube, and watch six or seven. Everything is sexualized! Always something about a female coworker having an affair with her boss or the like,” she said.

The effect of this is forming a stereotype of young women as promiscuous, tempting and devious, which has real life ramifications on abuse victims.

Here, we have the root of the problem. While the horrible murders that have made the news are more than worthy of attention, the daily cases that are overlooked tell us a lot about where the issue originates.

Abdelaziz argues that the issue must be tackled from two directions. From the state’s side, there must be a reinforcement of existing mechanisms and the implementation of unutilized ones, such as the National Framework for Combating Domestic Violence. Furthermore, there has to be a “social, psychological, economic as well as judicial approach to abuse. When a woman comes in after her husband hit her, and she says it is because of drugs, we have to assume this can recur, and also that the children are in danger, even if she does not say this. We also have to analyze the abuser’s circumstances to assess the cause,” she said.

Aside from the bureaucratic business, the way in which Jordan raises its children has a role.

“From a young age we hear “Rabab cooks while Bassem goes out and plays football! Abeer is the nurse and Hussein is the doctor! This sets up an uneven power dynamic that becomes the basis for relations between men and women,” Abdelaziz stressed.

It is clear that the way in which Jordan deals with domestic violence is severely flawed. Societal attitudes and gaps in the legal system inform each other and create a situation where victims cannot speak out.

We should not wait for many more deaths to happen for this discussion to take place; violence against women happens every minute of every day and is conveniently ignored. More conversations about those cases may help avoid horrific tragedies like those we recently witnessed.

Mohammad Rasoul Kailani is a first year student at the University of Toronto. Amongst various other topics, his interests are in Middle Eastern affairs.

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