By Fatima Sadiqi
By Fatima Sadiqi
Fez – ISIS Center for Women and Development at Fès, Morocco organized on 29 Decemebr a National Workshop on Strategies to Combat Violence against Women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Several academics and civil society activists from several Moroccan cities participated in this important event.
The workshop addressed the issue of gender and violence with the aim of unpacking its overarching historical, cultural, religious, social, and political underpinnings. Whilst gender-based violence is a universal phenomenon, it takes interesting nuances and wears multiple faces in the MENA region where tradition, social norm, religion, war, and politics intermingle in a powerful and tantalizing space-based patriarchy. The theme of “gender and violence” is relatively new in the field of research; hence, scholarly debate on gender and violence in the MENA is badly needed.
The participants revealed that gender-based violence is one of the most widespread violations of Human Rights. It may include verbal threats, coercion, economic abuse, or arbitrary deprivation of freedom in both the private and public spheres. Thus, violence against women has many forms; it can be physical, sexual, or emotional, and may be caused by a husband, a partner, a family member, or another person. Violence against women also includes sexual harassment and abuse by authority persons such as employers, the police, teachers, etc. Forced labor and trafficking are also forms of violence against women, and so are traditional practices like child marriages and honor killings.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which constitutes an international bill of rights for women, was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly. This Convention defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda to prevent, eradicate and punish violence against women and girls. Countries, like Morocco, that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. They are also committed to submit national reports, at least every four years, on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations. Most MENA countries ratified CEDAW with reservations on articles that are said to contradict Shari’a law.
Violence against women and girls in the MENA region, as in the rest of the world, has dramatic consequences for families and communities, as it not only causes harm to women, but also blocks productivity, reduces human capital and undermines economic growth.
The MENA area has recently become a hotbed for violence against women, especially after the so-called “Arab Spring”. The Yemen Post released a study that found 2,694 incidents of physical and sexual abuse against women in 2007. Sudan Daily reports that 278 incidents of violence against female citizens occurred in just three months. Likewise, in Egypt and Algeria, women are victimized. In Morocco, 1/3 of all women suffer from domestic abuse.
The victims of today’s wars are 70-80 % civilians, most of them women. They are tortured and humiliated in prisons and refugee camps. There is a link between violence against women and patriarchal oppression. This violence should be fought by building a feminist platform based on solidarity and abolishing all forms of oppression and discrimination.
Whilst violence against women has become a central issue in women’s movements across the MENA region in the last decade, with an emphasis on domestic violence, ‘honor killings’, early marriages, and prostitution-related cases, the dominant research paradigm on gender-based violence in the MENA region is that of the victimized Muslim women and their male oppressors on the basis of culture and religion. The impact of gendered political, social, and economic power on gender-based violence is seldom addressed, and so is the role of the State in banning or punishing violence against women.
The Workshop participants recommended that girl’s education, economic independence, and emancipation combined with activism and media can be used as tools to fight violence against women, and to address systematically family, community and state’s involvement in the right policies to fight violence against women. They also recommended the reform of education, critical thinking, reduction of the parity index through more schooling for girls, addressing gender equality in family, school, civil society, and use of social media to combat violence against women..
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