When Zahara* divorced her second husband her family locked her in an abandoned house for more than four years before police, acting on anonymous information, found and freed her.
“The [Palestinian Civil Police Family Protection Unit] advised me to press charges against my family, but I did not want to increase shame. My brother signed a pledge not to harm me. I trusted them and thought the situation would change. It did not.”The article goes on to show that UN Women are actually working to fix things instead of pretending that everything is Israel's fault, as most other UN groups do. There is none of the politics that usually suffuse everything the UN does in the Middle East.
Zahara’s story is not unique. A 2011 survey of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics revealed that one-third of women experiencing violence remain silent or seek help from family. Few turn to specialized institutions, and even less to security and justice services.
“All the people of the village blamed me for putting shame on my family after the police intervened. They never questioned my treatment by the family,” remembered Zahara.
A societal culture of shame, the patriarchal nature of Palestinian society, and pressure from family and the community in cases of gender-based violence, make it difficult for women to reveal their plight. Inadequate laws, lack of protection services, and low confidence in justice and security institutions further hamper opportunities for women to seek redress. As a result, most violence cases are not reported and never enter the justice system.
“Professional knowledge and expertise in dealing specifically with cases of women and girls victims of violence is needed,” says Dareen Salheyeh, Chief Prosecutor. “Dealing with these cases requires sensitivity to the issue, including awareness and willingness.”
From January to March 2014, Dareen was one of 20 prosecutors who attended UN Women workshops for public prosecutors on handling cases of gender-based violence. The workshops focused specifically on the use and application of laws, including international women’s rights conventions, for the benefit of women and girl survivors of violence. It is one of several activities targeted for justice and security professionals under a three-year UN Women-executed project funded by the UK Department for International Development. The project aims to train and establish specialized core groups of justice and security professionals for equitable access to justice for women survivors of violence.
*Name changed to protect her identity
It is sad that this is so unusual.