Violence against Women, Girls Escalates in MENA Countries

Violence against women and girls is a global phenomenon that is not confined to any particular geographical region, race, ethnicity, society, culture, age group, or socioeconomic status.

Recent reviews have emphasized that it has reached epidemic proportions and that it has major negative consequences, not only for the victims, but for the whole society.

However, it remains a socially accepted and hidden issue in many parts of the world, including the Middle East and North Africa region. Despite the scarcity of scientific data and the systematic under-reporting, consistent findings show that in Arab countries, as well as worldwide, at least one out of three women has been exposed to domestic violence, which is the most prevalent form that affects women of all social strata across the world.

According to UN figures, 37% of Arab women have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime. There are indicators that the percentage might be higher. Nearly 4 in every 10 of all women victims of homicide worldwide are killed by intimate partners.

Gender-based Violence Hits Universities in Egypt and Jordan

On 19 June, the United Nations marked the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, in order to raise awareness of the need to put an end to conflict-related sexual violence. Meanwhile, gender-based violence hits universities in Egypt and Jordan.

The shooting death of a female student inside her university campus on Thursday shocked Jordanians. The murder came three days after an Egyptian female student lost her life at the hands of a colleague.

Eman Irshed, a nursing student at Applied Science University in the Shafa Badran suburb of Amman, was killed by a non-student who had been seeking to marry her. In a recorded message, he said that if she did not accept to go out with him, he would kill her.

When police tracked down the alleged killer, surrounding him on Sunday, he killed himself before he could be arrested.

Mufid Irshed, the victim’s father, gave an emotional interview saying he would take his daughter to and from the university rather than allow her to use public transportation. He demanded capital punishment for her killer. “She did no wrong, why did he kill her?” he asked.

Kristen Batarseh, a postgraduate student in human rights and human development at the University of Jordan, told The Media Line that being a student is scary these days.

“Our universities are not safe. The university security guards never check students coming in and there are plenty of students who have weapons inside the campus. A few years ago, during student council elections, a student shot another student in the foot. I remember they closed the university and asked us all to leave,” she said.

Batarseh said Jordanian universities have witnessed many crimes. “Many families have prohibited their children, especially girls, from going to classes because it is not safe.”

Layla Nafaa, head of the Arab Women’s Organization, told The Media Line that violence against women has not necessarily increased but there is more awareness.

“Just like Israel’s crimes are more known now because of the media and cameras, also in Jordan we are much more aware of the gender-based violence due to the accessibility to media and people’s willingness to speak out and not to push such issues under the rug,” she said.

Social media was filled with opinions about the case even before the suspect allegedly took his own life. But the courts in Jordan issued a gag order barring media of all sorts from talking about the ongoing investigation while the killer was at large.

Serious Actions Needed

Intisar Al-Saeed, Lawyer and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Cairo Foundation for Development, says that “the real numbers of the phenomenon are terrifying, and often they are not reported with the aim of protecting the perpetrator, who is mostly a member of the family.

In this regard, the UN Statistical Commission adopted a new global framework for measuring gender-related killings of women and girls, developed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and UN Women. The framework will enable more precise measuring of the extent of femicide and assess worldwide risk factors associated with this brutal manifestation of violence against women. 

Along the same line, Global Rights Watch (GRW) stresses that violence against women is not only tolerated in MENA region but also often justified, and this discourages the victims from disclosing it and withholding punishment from the perpetrators.

As a consequence, fighting violence against women and girls is of the highest priority as it comes at a very high cost, at the levels of human rights, public health, and financial expenses and is an impediment to development.

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