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Mon 25 Jul 2011 02:57 PM

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Wife battering in Gaza spotlight

Gaza’s first safe-house for women has Hamas protection

Wife battering in Gaza spotlight
A Palestinian Bedouin woman stands in front of the flooded Wadi Gaza

Most safe-houses in the Gaza Strip are meant to provide
protection for armed militants on Israel's target list. Now Gaza is offering
protected shelter to battered Palestinian women.

Its lone women's safe-house, opened two months ago, has had
eight clients, all guarded by police from the Islamist Hamas movement that runs
the enclave and enforces a conservative though not radical Muslim religious
code.

So-called 'honour killings' are rare but not unknown among
religious Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank, and like every society it is
not immune to wife-beating.

"In 2010 there was no record of killing under the
motive of family honor and this is a positive development," said Huda
Naeem, a Hamas lawmaker who backed the safe house as a way station for women at
risk within their own families.

But feminism in Gaza is a very fragile plant.

Women in many Arab communities can be killed by zealous
relatives on the slightest suspicion of having relations with a strange man.
And jurists in Gaza say there is no clear clause in the Palestinian law setting
out the penalty for such murders.

Islam also prohibits adultery and some Islamic teachings
call for the stoning to death of offenders.

Sobheya Joma, a woman lawyer at the Independent Commission
for Human Rights (ICHR), said there was no way to know for sure if honor
killings were really eradicated.

"The ICHR is worried because it has recently noticed
that some deaths were listed as unexplained or accidental," Joma told
Reuters in her Gaza city office.

"As long as there is no investigation into these cases
and the real causes were not uncovered, you are still going to have
doubts," she said.

For Palestinian women, talking openly about sexual abuse in
the family is still taboo. But if it's accompanied by violence, some women can
finally opt for the shelter of the safe house.

Of the eight cases of abused women now under the roof of the
compound, some were minors. Other women have visited briefly and discreetly,
seeking professional advice and support.

"The first case who came to us was a woman who had been
subject to physical violence and was raped and then escaped from her
home," said resident psychiatrist Suhad Qanita.

"We supported her psychologically ... and, thank God,
eventually we were able to find her a husband."

Local human rights groups say it is the first such refuge in
this Mediterranean coastal enclave. At one stage, women under risk were
transferred to the other Palestinian Territory - the West Bank - where they
could be kept safe from angry relatives.

But it is now virtually impossible for Gazans to get to the
West Bank because of an Israeli blockade, which is vigorously imposed following
repeated Hamas attacks on the Jewish state.

The new safe-house sits in a large compound of Gaza's
Welfare Ministry, alongside a rehabilitation unit for young offenders, and
presence of guards provides security reassurance.

It can shelter up to 50 women, in large, clean rooms,
watched over by attendants who provide advice.

There are four women currently staying in the shelter.

One woman, ready to give birth, said she came in because of
a husband who beat her.

"We hope the new baby will lead to a reconciliation
with her husband," said Qanita.

Of the three others, two minors abused by members of their
families had been forced into prostitution.

Qanita said she had been shocked at her new job when she
came face to face with problems that were always hidden before.

"I hope this is not a widespread phenomenon, but to
some extent it is worrying," she said. "There are girls who are being
assaulted with impunity."

"We also try to educate families, and if a problem
cannot be solved within the nuclear family we try to find an uncle or a
relative ready to shelter the victim, but not in cases where a woman might be
killed if returned to the family," Qanita said.

Providing aid to families and finding jobs in Gaza, where
unemployment is over 40 percent according to the United Nations, are the main
tools used by Welfare Ministry trying to help the enclave's 1.5 million people
cope with a crippled economy.

Empowering women to speak up against abuse is tougher.

Women will tolerate physical and mental abuses in the family
without bringing formal complaints, simply in order to safeguard the integrity
of the home, said Naeem, who is one of just a handful of Hamas female
lawmakers.

But women subjected to repeated sexual abuse are starting to
seek outside help. Some go to police stations, others to tribal chiefs in what
she said was a sign of growing public awareness.

Gaza might remain largely cut off from the outside world
because of the Israeli blockade, but rooftop groves of satellite dishes
indicate that modernity -- or the ideas of radical Islam elsewhere in the Arab
world -- cannot be kept out.

"Opening the safe house has been a good step in the
right direction, Every day we are seeing a growing awareness amongst local people,"
said psychiatrist Qanita.

"The taboos are starting to crumble," she added.

Iqbal Tamimi-Director of Arab Women Media Watch/UK 8 years ago

It is a deliberate evil act to squeeze the subject of honor killing as the first reason when talking about physical violence against women in Gaza, while it is well known fact that the people in Gaza are suffering all kinds of pressures and poverty, living the worst conditions on Earth that contribute to all kinds of mental pressures that leads to aggression out of desperation. How very evil of Reuters reporters to point the responsibility away from Israel. This is pathetic.

gordon robertson 8 years ago

I cant believe that statment..there can never be any justifacation for violence against women.

it is illegal, it is immoral, it is against the teachings of the bible and the Koran....

Charles 8 years ago

Excellent comment Iqbal! Well done!

Sanwar al Manar 7 years ago

The Gazans are far from being in the worse conditions in the World. Get Real Iqbal.
Male brutality against Gazan women has nothing to do with Israel and the fact that you try to pin the blame on Reuters shows how woefully out of touch you are. How did you get your job when you so obviously know so little of the real situation?

Try speaking against Egypt a little more regarding Arab violence against women instead. Or maybe that doesn't count.