International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women: Bleak Picture for the Euro-Med Region

Economic & Social Rights, Egypt, Impunity/Accountability, Israel / OPT, Libya, Mashrek, Morocco / Western Sahara, Statement, Syria, Tunisia, Violence against Women, Women’s rights and gender justice

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As the world marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women today, EMHRN rings the alarm on the sharp increase in gender-based violence and the widespread impunity for it in the Euro-Mediterranean region.

Although violence against women is not a recent phenomenon in the Euro-Mediterranean region, new forms of gender-based violence have stemmed from the popular uprisings that have rocked the region as well as the continued Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Women’s bodies are increasingly used as weapons in the battlefields and in political rivalries. In Syria, Libya and Egypt, rape and sexual violence are widely employed to destabilise communities and dissuade women from participating in political and public life.

In many countries in the region, laws on sexual violence and harassment often have narrow definitions of rape, and provisions in the penal code still allow rapists to escape prosecution by marrying their victim. According to UN Women, 99% of women in Egypt have experienced some form of sexual harassment or violence. Even in countries where the legal framework is satisfactory, impunity for gender-based violence is still prevalent as judicial systems and societies are heavily biased towards men. These problems are coupled with questionable initiatives to change the narrative on these issues. For example, on 26 June, a UN resolution presented by Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and others on “protection of the family” reaffirmed that “family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State,” prioritising the right of the family over the right of the individual members of the family, including women.

Domestic violence remains the most prevalent and worrying form of violence against women across the region. Estimates in countries like Tunisia and Palestine show an increase in domestic violence against women following the uprising and as a result of the continued Israeli occupation. While the uprisings in the region have presented an opportunity for change in women’s role in society, it has also brought about a risk of a post-revolution backlash against women, with new laws reducing them to subordinate roles, thus increasing their vulnerability to domestic violence.

Violence against women in situations of conflict, as in Syria, Palestine and Libya, has also reached alarming levels in the past years. Women widowed as a result of war have fallen victim to cultural, economic and social discrimination and marginalisation as a result of their new role as heads of household in highly patriarchal societies. In Tunisia and Egypt, many women who participated in the post-revolution political transition processes have fallen victims to political violence.

Women trafficking persists in the southern Mediterranean region. Wealthy individuals from the Gulf and elsewhere continue to travel to Egypt to marry Egyptian women and girls in arranged so-called  “temporary marriages” that  often lead to sexual exploitation, prostitution, or forced labour while an increasing number of Syrian refugee women and young girls are also given away  for such “temporary marriages” in both Jordan and Lebanon. Tunisian women recruited for work in Lebanon have also been forced into prostitution after arrival.

In Europe, the impact of the economic crisis has increased women’s vulnerability to violence. Growing unemployment, precarious jobs, poverty and lack of economic independence due to the crisis and austerity have hit women harder, as they often include cuts in the public sector – the biggest employer of women. Austerity has also taken its toll on services relating to women empowerment such as shelters and hotlines for violence victims, as well as mechanisms for gender equality.  Coupled with patriarchal, discriminatory and conservative policies, these measures have further undermined women’s rights.

In March 2014, the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency published the outcomes of its survey on violence against women in the EU. The survey shows, that one in three women aged 15 or over has experienced physical and/or sexual violence; one in five women has experienced stalking and one in two women has been confronted with one or more forms of sexual harassment. Furthermore, 5% of women aged 15 or over reported having been raped.

According to the European Women’s Lobby, violence against women is the most widespread violation of women’s human rights in the EU. Its persistence and prevalence demonstrate that patriarchal values and male domination are still entrenched in European societies. Violence against women shapes women’s place in society, including their access to healthcare, employment and education.  It also plays a role in their economic independence as well as their integration into social and cultural activities, and participation in public and political life.

Recommendations

In light of the above, we urge States, governments, provisional governments and bodies in the Euro-Mediterranean region to:

  • Sign and fully implement relevant international instruments including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Palermo Protocol, the Rome Statute and the Istanbul Convention;
  • Put an end to impunity for perpetrators of violence against women. To this end, promptly reform national legislation and ensure its conformity with international standards;
  • Guarantee gender equality, non-discrimination and protection of women from gender-based violence in constitutions and by law as well as ensure its implementation.
  • Implement, maintain and develop public programs for equality and non-discrimination.