International Women’s Day 2016

Cyprus, Egypt, France, Israel / OPT, Jordan, Morocco / Western Sahara, Statement, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, Women’s rights and gender justice

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International Day for Women’s rights

 

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On this International Women’s Day, EuroMed Rights gives an overview of the situation with regard to violence against women in the Euro-Mediterranean region.

From North to South, women are still facing a multitude of challenges. Mentalities, traditions, inequalities between men and women, weaknesses of institutional and legislative frameworks, lack of resources and training … the ground for violence against women remains fertile.

While some achievements can be highlighted, including for some countries the signature of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Cyprus, France, Turkey …) or the recognition by law of the principle of non-discrimination and equal rights for men and women (Tunisian constitution), too many obstacles still persist and women remain largely discriminated.

Through the testimonies of a range of women’s rights activists, EuroMed Rights and its members recall the seriousness of inequalities and violence against women and the urgency for Euro-Mediterranean states to act in favor of Women’s Rights.

 

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Cyprus – Christina Kaili

Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (MIGS)

Christina Kaili 2

What do you see as the one major challenge to fight against violence against women in your country?

The major challenge in combating VaW in Cyprus is the absence of a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary support and treatment system for victims of all forms of violence against women and girls. Although Cyprus has a relatively good legislative and policy framework on domestic violence, there is very little done with regards to other forms of VaW (outside the family framework). A very high number of cases of reported domestic violence cases do not develop into criminal investigations and are either suspended or interrupted. At the same time, the nature of penalties imposed on the perpetrators of domestic violence are very discouraging, together with the lack of legal assistance for women and unjustifiable delays by the law services and stereotypes that show the lack of awareness among service providers.

In the fight to eliminate violence against women in your country, can you list one major achievement?

After over 2 years of lobbying advocacy by the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies together with other NGOs and women’s organisations, the Government of the Republic of Cyprus signed in June 2015 the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. But our efforts are not over yet, as we are currently advocating and providing expertise and technical support with recommendations to relevant governmental bodies on how to make necessary legal and policy changes aiming to ratify this convention, which is the first legally binding instrument that provides specific measures with regards to prevention, protection and prosecution of all forms of violence against women and domestic violence.

Could you share the story of one woman victim of violence?
Alexandra came to Cyprus from Romania and was 20 when she met Christos. She was working as a domestic worker, because she was in a difficult economic situation. “It took me a long time to realize that the person I was with was so violent. He started blaming, intimidating and threatening me when I opposed his will. I was young and I romanticized violence. I married him believing that I would change him and make him learn how to love. This is a myth in which many women gave in. Being married to him was hell. He was cursing and beating me constantly. I was forced to have sex with him. Although most of the times I didn’t have enough courage to leave him, every time I tried, Christos changed. He was changing into a sensitive man telling me that he didn’t want to lose me. When I gave in he was becoming again into a monster of violence. It was a vicious cycle of power and violence. This continued even when I was pregnant. After having two daughters with him, I knew that he would beat me even without a reason, anytime he wanted to beat me.”

When he threatened their daughters, Alexandra decided to report to the local NGO that runs the only shelter in Cyprus and to the police.

Alexandra’s case shows a broader social problem and injustice. Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, involves a combination of forms of violence (verbal, psychological, physical, and sexual) and is linked with different types of vulnerability (e.g. race, class).

Egypt – Nada Nashat

Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA)

Photo Nada Nashat

What do you see as the one major challenge to fight against violence against women in your country?

The biggest challenges we usually face in our work are the traditional, conservative mentalities as they basically enforce and strengthen the culture of Violence Against Women (VAW) and dehumanizing of women. Such mentalities are formed due to the conservative religious discourse that is always addressed in mosques and churches in Egypt or any other religious institutions. This discourse is not only adopting the conservative interpretations of religions, but also mix culture with religious opinion. Discriminatory laws against women also contribute to the culture of VAW and discrimination. Some articles in the penal code for example discriminate in the penalty between men and women only based on gender. In family law, men have the right to verbal divorce, while women have to file a case in the court.

In the fight to eliminate violence against women in your country, can you list one major achievement? Can you tell us about specific cases of women who benefitted from this positive achievement?

The major achievements do not unfortunately come in form of policies yet, but in the way that organization are changing the mentalities of some religious leaders through workshops and publishing papers on women and progressive religious interpretations. Despite the lack of clear policy in combating VAW, CEWLA and partner organizations from the civil society have raised several demands to issue a law combating VAW. The State has finally agreed to discuss the need of such a law.

Could you share the story of one (or more) women victims of violence?

One of the beneficiaries who was married for three years to an abusive man to the extent that she had several broken bones and wounds finally could get a divorce and child support after CEWLA’s legal intervention. She was provided with psychological support, sheltering services as she could not live in the same house with her husband anymore, and economical support till she finally got her civil papers (IDs and certificates) and could get a job and a housing of her own.

France – Françoise Brié

Fédération Nationale Solidarité Femmes (FNSF)

Photos Francoise Brie

What do you see as the one major challenge to fight against violence against women in your country?

The link between violence against women and inequalities between men and women has not been sufficiently understood in French society. Sexist stereotypes persist, especially concerning rape and sexual assault. Moreover, the awareness to equality towards young people also need to be developed, through school books (and the place of women in them), the media or social networks, the fight against sexist advertisement, cybersexism, etc.

In the fight to eliminate violence against women in your country, can you list one major achievement? Can you tell us about specific cases of women who benefitted from this positive achievement?

Several aspects have progressed since the 1990s: the legislation first with for instance aggravating circumstances for partners and ex-partners being violent, or the reconnaissance of domestic rape. Several laws in 2010 & 2014 have allowed to combine prevention, protection & repression, which is essential in the fight against violence. A woman can request a ruling of protection (following domestic violence, forces marriage, etc.), forbid the attacker from contacting her, assign the place of residence to her and ask the attacker to insure financially for both rent and other essential needs. Although temporary (6 months with possibility of renewal), this measure allows victims to be protected, to prepare the separation and initiate procedures in an environment prone to rebuilding herself.

Could you share the story of one (or more) women victims of violence?

Madam A was 25, married, pregnant, mother of a one-year old daughter and without resources. Her husband was very gentle in public, but very different in private: he insulted her, put her down, slapped her in front of her daughter and even threatened her to death. When she would try to push back, he would block her residence permit and denounce her to the State by indicating a refusal to integrate in France and learn the language.

After another series of violent acts, she decided to contact an association and filed a complaint. She received judicial help and had a lawyer pleading her case. The violence was proven in court and her husband was sentenced to one year in prison. He was then placed under judicial supervision for 2 years with a ban to go anywhere near his ex-wife, but she is still afraid of reprisal against her and her child.

Jordan – Eva Abu Hallaweh

Mizan Law Group for Human Rights

What do you see as the major challenge to fight against violence against women in your country?

It would be the legislation impunity for perpetrators, which is weak towards acts of physical violence and actually offers impunity for sexual violence by allowing the perpetrator to marry the victim. Also, the mentality of dealing with victims is a challenge as there aren’t any proper steps taken when dealing with victims.

In the fight to eliminate violence against women in your country, can you list one major achievement?

Jordan is actually the first Arab country to adopt a law to protect victims of domestic violence and there is a special force implemented for dealing with cases of domestic violence.

Could you share the story of one women victims of violence?

In March 2015, Mizan won the first case in Jordan to award a victim of domestic violence compensation from the perpetrators. She was the first child of her parents, who wanted a boy instead, so she was subject to torture through constant ill treatment, starvation, burning, tying of limbs and other actions. This was also in part due to since all of the boys they had after her had mental disabilities. Mizan took on the case and helped lawyers strategically litigate the case in courts, and won. There are now 3-4 victims pending seeking compensation and this could in turn lead to the prevention of ill treatment and torture because perpetrators will now know that there are consequences to their actions.

Morocco – Naima Oualhi

Association Marocaine des Droits Humains (AMDH)

Naima OualhiWhat do you see as the one major challenge to fight against violence against women in your country?

If women still suffer from violence solely because of their gender, it is the legislative aspect that needs to be blamed: our society has never had so many laws, yet these laws are precisely those that are obstacles in the fight against VAW. Discrimination remains, cases of underage girls being forced to marry are rising, polygamy persists and the care of children by mothers has restrictive conditions on them. In Morocco, the law is failing and disappointing Moroccan women.

In the fight to eliminate violence against women in your country, can you list one major achievement? Can you tell us about specific cases of women who benefitted from this positive achievement?

Feminist and Human Rights movements have achieved a partial change of the law 475 of the penal code, which allowed a rapist to marry his victim and therefore avoid repercussions.

It is unfortunately the very mediatized suicide of a 16-year old girl, Amina Elfilali, on 10 March 2012 in Marache (near Tangier) that gave a powerful push to the fight against this appalling law. Amina was forced by her family to marry the man who had raped her twice.

This law has since then been cancelled and we are fighting today for a law that protects women against any sort of violence.

Could you share the story of one woman victim of violence?

Rabia Ziadi was submitted to violence by her ex-husband, a police officer nonetheless, who wanted to have revenge because she had gone to court to prove the paternity of her daughter. Kidnapped, poisoned, raped & tortured, Rabia suffered a hemiplegia before dying mid-February 2016.

Occupied Palestinian Territory – Lamya Shalaldeh

Women Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC)

Lamya Shalaldeh

What do you see as the one major challenge to fight against violence against women in your country?

When it comes to violence against women, the biggest challenge lies within the laws, especially as there is no adequate penal code, and no bill project that aims at protecting family from violence. As a consequence, violence against women goes on in the private sphere instead of being brought to the public space, allowing those who commit acts of violence to evade their direct responsibility in this phenomenon of domestic violence.

In the fight to eliminate violence against women in your country, can you list one major achievement? Can you tell us about specific cases of women who benefitted from this positive achievement?

Following Attorney General Youssef Idaiss’ will to revise the Personal Status Law in 2012, Palestinian women who are victims of violence can now obtain a divorce without providing a long list of evidence ‘motivating’ their application for divorce or gathering testimonies about the violence they endured, as it was the rule in the past. It is now possible for women to start a streamlined procedure whose decision rests with the judge on mere basis of his conviction. Witness testimonies against the women from the relatives, which were previously mandatory to corroborate the statements of the victim, may now be replaced by the request to the victim to swear in his statements.

Could you share the story of one woman victim of violence?

51-year-old woman, living in Ramallah, appeared in court of Ramallah in 2011, asking for a divorce on grounds of domestic violence. At the time, the evidence required to substantiate her request based on ‘conflict and separation’ are very difficult to collect. Her record remains incomplete… The woman, being aware of the possible revision of the divorce law, decides not to attend the day of her hearing. She hopes her trial can be reported until the law is being revised. In 2012, the woman finally appears in court and she obtains the divorce.

Syria – Sema Nasser

Urnammu

What do you see as the one major challenge to fight against violence against women in your country?

Violence based on gender is often fed by society’s traditions and discriminatory laws. And not only do laws related to women have no element of reform, they also seem to go back to older ways in terms of women emancipation.

The unusual context of the armed conflict in Syria and the silence of the International Community about the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian authorities and the armed militia in the past 5 years are reinforcing these discriminatory policies. Women victim of violence can therefore be brought to the sole conclusion that those responsible for these acts of violence have total impunity.

In the fight to eliminate violence against women in your country, can you list one major achievement?

Thanks to the pressure of militants, Civil Society Organisations and feminist association in Syria, 2 projects to amend the personal statutes of 2010, which would legitimise all causes of discrimination and violence towards the 2 weakest links of the family chain (women and children), were aborted.

Could you share the story of one woman victim of violence?

Sanaa is a mother of 2 girls and lived in the outskirts of Homs. She took the side of the Syrian revolution in the hope to witness a wind of change towards a free and democratic Syrian in which all Syrians would have the same rights and duties.

While she was returning from a mission (bringing medicine to victims of the regime), Sanaa was arrested at a border patrol by government militaries who discovered she had medicine. She was brought to a security office in Homs where she was insulted, beaten & called a terrorist. She was later sent to Damas to be brought to justice, but once she arrived, the officer realised she was Christian and had the American nationality, so she was immediately released.

Gravely hurt, she looked for a doctor, but most of them refused to treat her when they found out she had been in a regime prison. When she returned home, Sanaa finds out that her husband took their daughters and left for the USA. Disproving her taking the side of the revolutionaries, he reported her to the Syrian authorities, who made her leave the country. Once she got to the USA, she was forbidden to contact her daughters as her husband had warned the American authorities who considered her as a terrorist.

Sanaa is now back in Beirut without her husband nor daughters, where she helps Syrian women victims of violence in her country…

Tunisia – Monia Ben Jamia

Association Tunisienne de Femmes Democrates (ATFD)

Monia Ben Jemia

What do you see as the one major challenge to fight against violence against women in your country?

Women victim of violence seldom come forward with it because of pressure from family, society, etc. Women are expected not to file complaint in order to maintain the family cohesion or preserve honour. Also, several governmental institutions, like the police or the justice department, who lack means and training, often suggest women to drop their complaints.

Beyond the mentality, the main obstacle is the penal legislation, which encourages impunity. Domestic violence is only severely punished if the beatings were given by the husband. Former partners or other partners than husbands are not concerned. Moral, sexual and economic violence committed by the husband are simply ignored, which explains why so many murders are committed by them. Without violence, the sexual aggression inflicted to a teenager is absolved if the author accepts to marry his victim. Rape “without physical violence” is often considered by judges as a consented act, who then rule for acquittal because of “alleged” consent by the victim or mitigating circumstances.

In the fight to eliminate violence against women in your country, can you list one major achievement?

We are delighted that the fight against VAW is finally included in the new Constitution, promulgated on 27 January 2014. Through Article 46, the State is obliged to take “necessary measures” to “put an end to VAW”. A full bill on fighting VAW is in the making and Civil Society is very mobilised to make sure it is adopted by the government in March 2016.

Could you share the story of one women victims of violence?

After being raped by 2 police officers, Myriam Ben Mohamed (assumed name) was sued for public offense to decency before the case dismissed. Her rape was almost legitimised because she was found with her fiancé in a posture contrary to customs. Raped 3 times by 2 police officers who arrested her, she had to fight to have a hospital certify her rape and to find a police station willing to accept her complaint.

Myriam decided to cover her rape in her circle to preserve honour, but she accepted to testify publicly by hiding her face. Mixed reactions in Tunis blamed her for being in an isolate place at night with someone else than her husband. Myriam was eventually forced to exile to safe keep her anonymity, her mental health and attempt to rebuild her life.

In appeal, 14 years of prison were given to the attackers, a merciful sentence for collective rape committed by State agents. Her rape had been requalified as “rape without physical violence”.

Tunisia – Raoudha Gharbi

Ligue Tunisienne des Droits de l’Homme (LTDH)

Raoudha Gharbi

What do you see as the one major challenge to fight against violence against women in your country?

The 2011 revolution has considerably increased the strength of Civil Society Organisations in Tunisia, but violence remains. Even though, women are a lot more mobilised and struggling to protect and promote their rights, they are still victims of political, economic, social and symbolic violence.

The collective mentality dominates, which includes the ancestral prejudice of women inferiority, which seems to rime with violence: in the domestic sphere, the use of violence is still a principle of education and regulation of family conflicts in which women are the primary victims. At home and at school, physical punishment is still common. And this goes without including all the other forms of violence.

The main challenge in Tunisia is therefore to change the mentalities and destroy the common preconception that violence against women is ordinary. Instead, society has to integrate that this violence is a violation of women’s fundamental rights. To do so, education and culture must promote an environment of equality and respect of women and girls. Only then will justice maybe align itself with international standards.

In the fight to eliminate violence against women in your country, can you list one major achievement? Can you tell us about specific cases of women who benefitted from this positive achievement?

According to me, the main success rests in the guaranties given by the Constitution of 27 January 2014, in which the preamble and article 21 dictate the principle of non-discrimination and equality in rights between men and women.

Another ray of hope came with the reactivation of a national strategy launched in 2007 to prevent violent acts being perpetrated within families and society. A lodging centre for women victim of violence was recently inaugurated by the Ministry of Women and Family Affairs.

Could you share the story of one women victims of violence?

As Monia Ben Jemia stated, the most symbolic story is the one of Myriam Ben Mohamed. This story received unprecedented media attention in Tunisia because of the implication of two government agents who are supposed to protect citizens.

This affair perfectly illustrates the dominating climate of violence against women and the lack of legislative and institutional means to properly fight it.

Turkey – Nil Mutluer

Helsinki Citizens Assembly (HCA)

Photo Nil Mutluer

What do you see as a major challenge and a major achievement in the fight against violence against women in your country?

As a result of pressure of women’s movements in Turkey, the Civil Code and Criminal Law were amended in favor of women in 2002. Since then, Turkey has become one of the first signatories of the 2011 Istanbul Convention and adopted Law n° 6284 on Prevention of Violence Against Women.

Nevertheless, current developments guarantee neither the proper application of these laws nor any related policies. The overall conservative and patriarchal approach of political figures and decision makers provide a pseudo-legitimate ground for state bureaucracy not to apply these laws consistently during prevention, protection and legal action phases of the acts of violence against women.

Furthermore, the government introduced in the last decade new societal values for what it refers to as “the new Turkey.” These values mainly position women as the Muslim-nationalist mothers of the Nation. It is now common for acts of women against this positioning to be publicly scolded by prominent figures, such as the president, prime minister or other high-ranking bureaucrats.

What is the current situation for women victims of violence?

Violence against women is a widespread phenomenon in Turkey. Statistics show that in 2015 alone, 290 women were recorded as murdered and it is believed that many more have failed to be recorded as such. The number of non-fatal acts of violence against women are even higher.

The Digital Monument Counter was set up to commemorate the memories of women who have fallen victim to murder.

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