Following the Israeli military Operation Protective Edge in summer 2014, this reports presents the findings of a study initiated by ActionAid and Alianza por la Solidaridad (Alianza) on violence against women (VAW) in the Gaza Strip, defined as ‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life’.
This study had two aims: First, to paint a wider picture of violence against women across Gaza after the last Israeli military operation, complementing existing qualitative work on subsets of the population. Second, to draw conclusions about what services could be offered to better protect and support survivors of VAW in Gaza, and what interventions can be planned that tackle attitudes and trigger behavioural changes in order to decrease its incidence and prevalence. A survey with a representative sample of women in the Gaza Strip and qualitative interviews, focus groups and roundtable discussions were carried out to learn more about the types of VAW in public and private spaces in Gaza; incidence and prevalence of VAW in public and private spheres; perception of the nature, causes and consequences of VAW; existing avenues of support to survivors of VAW; and to understand its link to military violence in Gaza.
The fieldwork for this study took place between April and July 2015; 37 social workers spoke to 440 women who responded to a quantitative questionnaire, and 332 women, 130 men, 7 key community informants and 28 members of civil society organizations in focus group discussions, roundtables and individual interviews to help us gain a wider picture about the types, prevalence and frequency of violence that women aged 17 and above experience across the Gaza Strip.
These are our main findings:
Types and forms of violence
• Most of the violence experienced by women is perpetrated by husbands or other family members inside their homes.
• Psychological abuse, particularly in the form of curses, insults, yelling and screaming is the type of violence most prevalent across Gaza.
Prevalence and incidence
• 39.6 per cent of women interviewed in our survey experienced at least one type of domestic violence since the end of the Israeli military operation in summer 2014.
• Most women experience acts of violence as non-singular events.
• More than 63 per cent of women who experience domestic violence report being subject to different types of abuse.
Avenues of support
• The most frequent coping strategies of women are to try to solve the problem by themselves, e.g. by ignoring the perpetrators or asking them to stop, and by asking family for help. Around 28 per cent of abused women do not speak to anyone about it.
• Compared to information from previous years, the use of formal and informal support mechanisms has slightly increased.
Perceptions of causes
• Reasons for the perpetration of violence against women were perceived to depend on the sex of the perpetrator: men are perceived to perpetrate violence against women in order to exert control and power, and women are perceived to perpetrate violence against other women mainly out of jealousy and envy.
Military violence and VAW
• Study participants distinguish a clear link between political violence and violence against women.
• In focus group discussions, a clear link was also made between the economic situation as a result of the Israeli political violence and violence against women.
• Our survey data shows that husbands’ feelings of stress or depression in connection with the economic situation are related to women’s exposure to physical domestic violence.
• We find a significantly larger share of women reporting physical and verbal abuse in private and public spheres, and a small increase in prevalence rates of domestic violence between the 12 months before and 11 months after the Israeli military operation.
• We find that displacement during the hostilities is significantly correlated with higher likelihoods of experiencing domestic violence, particularly of an emotional, physical and controlling nature. 9 Based on the findings of our study and what we know about what works against VAW, we recommend multidimensional responses that aim at changing gender norms and attitudes at individual, household and community level as well as unequal institutional structures.
Particularly important are:
• Awareness-raising activities should be aimed at different groups, and involve both men and women. Activities that could reach a wider audience, such as through TV or dedicated radio shows, could be particularly effective in engaging women and men in talking about VAW, its causes and consequences and ways to resolve conflicts.
• Including traditional and religious leaders to correct wrong concepts and interpretations of women’s rights and VAW was frequently mentioned by many study participants.
• Awareness alone cannot lead to behavioural changes. Psychological, financial and legal support and economic empowerment need to complement activities in order to provide women with real choices to reduce dependence and learn and practise mechanisms to minimise violence against them.
• Early marriage was perceived by study participants as one of the reasons for conflict between spouses and domestic abuse. The legal marriage age should to be raised, and awareness raising and advocacy against early marriage should be strengthened.
• Some populations, particularly in more remote areas that are hard to access, do not yet benefit from the same level of programmes as others. However, these are often also more traditional and poor, making it difficult for women to participate. Efforts should be undertaken to reach these populations as well.
• Civil society organisations need to better understand the situation and needs of women in particularly and the society in general. This will enable them to better tailor programmes and to monitor any progress made and focus and reinforce what works.
• Better coordination among governmental, non-governmental and international actors would allow organisations to become more specialised and thus effective. It would also facilitate the creation of a system where relief and development programmes could work together, without the need to discontinue one at the expense of the other in times of emergency.
• Finally, an end to the ongoing siege and access restrictions would contribute to the economic recovery of Gaza and thus relieve individuals, families and communities from some of the daily stresses that are associated with higher levels of domestic violence.