Muslim women in hijab
Muslim women in hijab Israel news photo: Flash 90

A new study by the Gaza-based Palestinian Women’s Information and Media Center (PWIMC) has found that local women have suffered increased violence since June 2007, when the Hamas terrorist group seized control of the region.

In fact, the survey showed that 77 percent of women in the southern Palestinian Authority area face at least one of several forms of violence at the hands of men, according to the findings of the women’s rights organization.

Unemployed Gaza Wives at Risk for Divorce

The study, which was conducted through interviews with 350 women throughout various districts in Gaza during the last three months in 2009, also found that almost two thirds of the women surveyed were the family breadwinners.

However, approximately the same number of women depended on packages from international aid organizations, raising the issue of what a “breadwinner” is for women in today’s Gaza.

An interview with Huda Hamouda, director of the PWMC published by The Media Line raises more questions.  According to Hamouda, “There’s widespread unemployment and the number of female workers has dropped. It was 14.5 percent in 2006 and now it’s less than 10 percent,” she said last Thursday.

Gaza men are feeling the strain of their wives’ inability to support the family as well, and apparently are punishing them for it. According to the survey, some 31 percent of those surveyed are married women who became divorced in the past three years, or said their husbands were threatening to divorce them due to the financial situation.

More Than Half of Gaza Women Brutalized

Of the various types of violence encountered by the women, since June 2007, 67 percent of those surveyed said they had been subjected to verbal abuse, 71 percent had suffered mental cruelty and 52 percent experienced physical violence. More than 14 percent had been sexually assaulted.

In addition, the survey found that almost half of those who have experienced some form of violence have suffered more than one type of abuse – and 25 percent said they do not feel safe in their own homes as a result.

One third of those who have been brutalized also told interviewers they felt unable to fight back, because there were more urgent priorities to be addressed.

‘Laws Lax’ on Abuse, Honor Killings

Women’s rights activists said that Palestinian Authority police in Gaza usually turn a blind eye to complaints about domestic violence, for example, and there are few shelters for battered women. Hamouda confirmed the account, adding that laws to combat violence against women were lax.

A case in point, she observed, was the issue of honor killings, in which male relatives murder a female relative for “dishonoring” the family, either by dressing inappropriately or socializing with men who are not husbands or relatives. Sometimes it is only for the mere suspicion for having committed the “crime.”

“The authorities do punish them but the law is weak,” Hamouda noted. “When it comes to so-called honor crimes, the articles of the criminal laws still mete out mitigated sentences to the perpetrators.”

The Hamas terrorist organization has denied imposing Sharia law on the region, but the anecdotal evidence appears to indicate otherwise, backed up by a section of the Koran quoted by Muslim men to justify their physical abuse:

“Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah has guarded. As for those from whom you fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them...and scourge them.”

Adding to the study's finding, there have been increasing reports over the past year that Hamas religious police are reprimanding women for dressing in “immodest” clothing and ordering women on the beach to “cover up.” Last summer, a chief justice ordered female lawyers to wear the hijab (hair covering) while appearing before the court.