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Gender Discrimination – Focus: Gaza

December 22, 2016 By Flavia Sevald

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Gender discrimination in the Palestinian territories, especially in Gaza, is rampant.  Male bias is present in every aspect of the personal, social and religious lives of everyday Palestinians.  The discriminatory family and legal codes, which are grossly outdated, in addition to restrictions on physical integrity, civil liberties, resources and assets, along with blatantly accepted bias towards sons, provide justification and loopholes that inevitably lead to the poor, and often heinous, treatment of daughters, wives, mothers, sisters, nieces, etc.

According to the statistics found in the Social Inequality and Gender Index (SIGI) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Personal Status Law is adopted from Jordanian (1976 Personal Status Law, applicable in the West Bank) and Egyptian (unmodified 1954 Family Law, applicable in Gaza) religious laws; such laws were inspired by the Hanafi School of Islamic Jurisprudence and contain discriminatory provisions in marriage, child custody, divorce and inheritance.[1] As a result, according to the index scores of SIGI, the Palestinian Authority scores high-very high on the discrimination scale.

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The legal age for marriage on the books in Gaza, is seventeen for females and eighteen for males, while there are reports that girls as young as nine and boys as young as twelve can be married if a judge deems it is in the child’s best interest (SIGI, Discriminatory Family Code). Additional reports indicate that fathers can, and do, marry off their daughters by withholding the child’s real age from the judge, often to “relieve financial burden”. Also, women cannot marry without permission from the closest paternal male relative and fathers are considered the natural guardians of children, while mothers are simply physical custodians (SIGI, Discriminatory Family Code). If divorced, mothers generally have physical custody of sons until the age of 10 and of daughters until the age of 12, however, if remarried the mother forfeits such rights.  Christian women divorced from Muslim men are afforded even less rights if divorced.  According to various reports, women who lost their husbands in conflict were threatened with losing custody of their children and being thrown out of their houses if they refuse to marry their late husband’s brother (SIGI, Discriminatory Family Code).

Restricted Physical Integrity

The most heartbreaking form of gender discrimination, comes in the form of “restricted physical integrity”.  Realistically, a women’s body is not her own, it belongs to a male relative, to command and control as he wills. There are few protections in place to protect women from crimes against her person; the international community is still waiting for ratifications drafted in 2011 to bring the legislation of the Palestinian Authority up to international standards (SIGI, Restricted Physical Integrity)..

Despite the high prevalence of domestic violence, and its exacerbation by poor living conditions, there are no laws against it, neither in Gaza or the West Bank. A substantial percentage of Palestinian women believe there are justifiable reasons for a husband to beat his wife, with only 39% believing there is no excuse. A large percentage of women claim to suffer violence from their husbands, physical and sexual, this is especially true in Gaza (SIGI, Restricted Physical Integrity). Of those, less than one percent of the victims filed police reports. Societal views of shame and honor keep victims silent having very few places or nowhere to turn to for help, and confidentiality of court proceedings is not guaranteed in domestic violence cases.

In Palestinian society it is taboo to speak of sexual abuse, especially incest, and the victim faces dire consequences and brings shame on herself and her family if she reports it.

There are laws against rape, which grossly lack proper protection and fail to even recognize spousal rape. The age of consent for sex is 18 and there is a minimum punishment for raping a minor, but lighter sentences may be given if the rapist can convince the court that he perceived the victim to be older than 16, which is in itself nonsensical since the legal age of consent is 18. According to various reports, rapists, in both Gaza and the West Bank, are released of all charges if they agree to “marry” their victims, and the victim’s families often pressure them to do so (SIGI, Restricted Physical Integrity).

Incest is not even considered sexual assault in the West Bank as the Jordanian Penal Code sights both the perpetrator and the victim as sharing blame, and that is regardless of the age of the child (SIGI, Restricted Physical Integrity). Women (and girls) are blamed for the sexual violence perpetrated against them and are thus forced to cover their bodies, to avoid being “seductive” even as small children.

Similarly, no laws are in place against sexual harassment, as “immoral advances” of either gender are mentioned in legislation without clarifying what that might be. In Palestinian religious society, even women’s nature appearance is considered “provocative” and justification for rape (SIGI, Restricted Physical Integrity). It therefore should come as no surprise that women rarely report sexual harassment.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) reportedly takes place in Gaza, but the prevalence is unknown.

[1] OECD, SIGI,Gender Index, Palestinian Authority, available at http://www.genderindex.org/country/palestinian_authority, accessed Aug 20, 2016.