One in three women globally have experienced sexual or physical violence at least once in their lives. In the Middle East and North Africa region it is estimated that 37% of women experience some form of violence. This number does not include the masses of women who do not come forward to report incidents of violence out of fear of reprisal. Social stigma plays a fundamental role when it comes to how violence against women and girls is perceived. Contributing factors that allow this norm to prevail include a lack of legislation that criminalises domestic violence, limited protection for women inside their homes, as well as a justice and a court system ill prepared to prosecute perpetrators and protect victims. Legislatures can play a crucial role in establishing a legal environment that protects women. With improved laws that are more rigorously enforced, potential perpetrators will be discouraged from committing violence while survivors will have wider access to the necessary services and support. Increased public debate, new legislation, improved oversight, political leadership and enhanced regional cooperation are needed to ensure the rights of women and girls are upheld and impunity for perpetrators becomes a thing of the past.
WFD supported the Coalition in developing an Arab Convention to Combat Violence Against Women and Girls, similar to the Council of Europe’s ‘Istanbul Convention’. The Convention is designed to respond to the challenges that women face, in peace time as well as during conflict, and is the first ever regional commitment to end gender-based violence.
The Convention has been discussed by the Arab League’s Women Committee (which has 22 Arab governments represented) since 2017. A review of the fourth version concluded in Saudi Arabia in mid-February 2020, on the back of consultation meetings with MPs in six countries (Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia) to widen support for the convention. Now, the Convention will be reviewed for the last time and will hopefully go to the Council of the Arab League in late 2020 to be formally adopted.
At the national level, through the Coalition and in collaboration with dynamic national advocates in parliament, government, local campaign organisations, the business community, and the media, parliaments in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Tunisia and Palestine put violence against women and girls on the political agenda. By collectively targeting the ‘rape-marriage’ provision in the penal code – that allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims – and legislation to tackle domestic violence, significant progress was made in the region in 2017. In Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine, penal code art. 522 in Lebanon, art. 308 in Jordan and art. 308 in Palestine were all repealed. WFD equipped members of the Coalition with the research capacity and the support they needed to influence colleagues in national parliaments. For example, in Palestine, WFD commissioned an expert study on the impact of discriminatory legislation on women to increase awareness about such legislation in parliament. Coalition meetings, organised with WFD support, took place in December and November 2017 to allow members to share their experiences and coordinate political action at the national and regional level.