Women’s rights activists from Gaza are raising awareness about the horrific violence women face in the coastal enclave, including the very real danger of being murdered by their own family members.
A ground-breaking campaign for women’s rights in Gaza is being conducted mostly on social media, which aims to encourage women to expose harassment they have encountered while safeguarding their honor.
Individuals behind the campaign explain that sexual harassment in Gaza is a common issue which is not addressed because of Palestinian society’s traditional and religious nature.
Zinab Animi, head of Institute for the Defense of Women in Gaza, said that an Arab and Muslim woman has tremendous difficulty complaining to the police or testifying in court, and therefore the phenomenon is treated with silence by Gaza’s society.
She said that while the troubling phenomenon is widespread, it is hard to collect accurate data, as shame, tradition and society prohibit discussion of the problem.
Muslim society traditionally deals with sexual assault only within the family, and the female victim is often the one punished. She may even be murdered in an “honor killing” perpetrated by a family member.
Bringing awareness to such crimes in Hamas-ruled Gaza is a breach of religious, traditional and social conventions, and therefore the anonymity afforded by social media is an optimal platform to address the issue.
Some, however, have chosen to reveal their identity. Tamam Abu Salama recounted how she was harassed by a bus driver on a school bus, and at the time did not understand what she was encountering.
Abu Salama is a Brussels-based activist and is part of the growing Gazan community in Belgium. She explained that in the wake of social and economic collapse in the Strip, attacks on Gazan women have increased, with no judicial system for them to turn to.
Women’s rights activists are seeking to breach the wall of silence and shatter the taboo on discussing sexual harassment.
Many on social media are demanding that the campaign be broadened to include the defense of children. They describe verbal and physical assaults on children in public and at schools that include boys and girls.