New Age Islam News Bureau
4 May 2020
• Saudi Women's Organisations Intervene to Meet Corona Challenge
• Necessities for Women Part of Aid Pack: Looking Beyond the Common Items, An NGO Has Thought About the Necessities Women Have Been Too Shy to Ask For
• US Coercive Measures Against Iran Hurting Women
• Women's Branch of AK Party Updates Supporters on Coronavirus Outbreak
• Egypt’s Establishments Move to Back Women Amid Pandemic
• Israel's National Security Council Rejects Call to Add Women and Minorities to Coronavirus Expert Panel
• UN Urges Iraq To Pass Laws to Tackle Domestic Violence
• ISIS Women in Turkey Set Free After Top Appeals Court Sets Precedent In Conviction Reversal
• ‘Home Is No Longer Safe’, Syrian Refugee Women InJordan Fear Domestic Violence More Than COVID-19
Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau
Saudi women's organisations intervene to meet corona challenge
May 4, 2020
They were told to stay at home and begin remote learning like everyone else. But they had no laptops. How could they participate in their school’s online classes without computers?
This is the kind of dilemma underprivileged families in south Jeddah are facing as Saudi Arabia is compelled to enforce lockdowns on public life to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
But help is at hand. Saudi women’s empowerment organizations, both long-time established and recently formed, have risen to the challenge with public-spirited initiatives.
“The families in south Jeddah were the first to be under the 24-hour lockdown in Saudi Arabia because they live closely to each other in a high-risk area,” said Dania Al-Maeena, CEO of Aloula, a Saudi non-profit organization.
“We collaborated with a volunteer group called Khadoum that provides distance learning. Hundreds of individuals across Saudi Arabia supported the campaign, and over 15 companies donated laptops, food and games for the children.”
“Women are the caregivers, and so women are bearing the brunt of the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said RashaAlturki, CEO of Riyadh-based Alnahda Society for Women, which has provided assistance since 1962 to women who are at risk or belong to socioeconomically disadvantaged households.
This year, as part of Saudi Arabia’s G20 presidency, Alnahda was entrusted by a royal decree with leading the W20, an official G20 engagement group dedicated to women’s issues.
At the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak in Saudi Arabia, Aloula staged a campaign entitled “AlnassLibaed” (“People Are for Each Other”), said Al-Maeena.
“We placed a new target to help 800 families and 4,000 beneficiaries, providing them with food baskets, including water, dates, canned foods and food donated by restaurants, as well as toys for children,” she told Arab News.
Established in 1962 by a group of women to support families in south Jeddah and registered with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, Aloula’s founders have banded together for humanitarian work whenever the need arises. The same kind of intervention is visible during the coronavirus pandemic.
This time, as the Kingdom confronts one of the biggest public-health challenges since its founding, Aloula has managed to help 4,000 people and more than 1,000 families in need.
“Women are by nature caregivers, so this period of upheaval and distress has prompted women in Saudi Arabia to come together more than ever to help those suffering,” said HonaydaSerafi, a fashion designer who serves on the board of the Saudi ADHD Society.
Serafi said she is providing meals for 100 families in Lebanon during the coronavirus crisis. “We want to give a sense of hope and positivity during this period to everyone in need,” she told Arab News.
The Saudi ADHD Society, chaired by Princess Nouf bint Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Saud, has tailored its ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) programs for online platforms in light of the current situation.
“We’ve provided close to 100 free online counseling sessions,” said Serafi, adding that the society has been receiving many calls for help.
Alturki said all three activities in which Alnahda specializes — grassroots assistance, research and fieldwork, and advocacy — are key to understanding how the situation is affecting women.
In addition, the organization has overseen the distribution of more than 600 laptops among children in need, and connected women in need of masks, sanitizers and financial assistance with charities.
“We’ve sourced and distributed protective baskets among beneficiaries of our programs,” said Ebtisam Abdullah Al-Jubair, CEO of FatatAlkhaleej. “We’re also transferring SR200 ($53.19) to 173 families as part our orphan-sponsorship program.”
Necessities for Women Part of Aid Pack: Looking Beyond the Common Items, An NGO Has Thought About the Necessities Women Have Been Too Shy to Ask For
04 May 2020
By JOHN BARRY
JOHOR BARU: Looking beyond the common items, an NGO has thought about the necessities many have been too shy to ask for.
Yayasan Suria Johor Baru (Yayasan Suria) is now adding sanitary pads to their aid packs to ensure the women they assist will have less to worry about during the movement control order (MCO) which has now entered the conditional phase.
Yayasan Suria founder James Ho, together with his friend Kelvin Koh, have been delivering food aid to the poor in the state since the start of the MCO on March 18.
Ho said that in the beginning they were just providing necessities such as cooked food and household supplies to the needy families, but not thought of other necessities.
“We also give reusable and disposal diapers, ” he said, adding that previously they used to give out disposable diapers but had replaced them with the environmentally friendly alternative.
“We have an Internet-savvy partner who is currently working on making an online page where people can request groceries to be delivered to their homes, ” he said, adding that the group was also sourcing for dates to be delivered to Muslim families in need during Ramadan.
Those who wish to donate or to highlight anyone who may be in need of food or groceries can call Ho at 019-772 4172 or visit www.facebook.com.Yayasan Kebajikan SuriaKawasanPermasJB
US Coercive Measures Against Iran Hurting Women
May 04, 2020
BRUSELS (IDN) – On 21 May 2018, less than two weeks after the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched Washington’s “New Iran Strategy” before an audience at the Heritage Foundation. In his remarks, he insisted that Iranian women’s long struggle for inclusion and equality matters dearly to Washington.
As if to prove the point, the U.S. State Department’s social media feeds since that day have interspersed announcements of new choking sanctions with twinkling reminders of Iranian women’s potential (“Congratulations to Iranian-American and new #NASA Astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli!”).
In January 2020, the State Department released a two-minute video on the history of Iranian women’s rights. To a melody of maudlin piano and soaring strings, the video sweeps viewers past scenes of bare-headed women in silk blouses, wistfully recalling an era when Iran’s women purportedly “enjoyed freedom and equal opportunity”, before shifting to dark footage from after the 1979 revolution, when “women’s rights in #Iran…regressed”. No Iranian woman from either era actually speaks in the video, about either the Shah’s regime or the Islamic Republic. But the final caption promises nevertheless: “The women of the U.S. will stand with the women of Iran”.
Washington’s evocation of Iranian women and their aspirations has become a feature of its marketing for “maximum pressure” – the campaign of economic coercion aimed at precipitating Iranian capitulation to U.S. demands or regime collapse. The marketing is stunning for its hypocrisy, focused as it is on the plight of Iranian women even as it says nothing about the injustices women face at the hands of Middle Eastern governments allied with the U.S. Moreover, as Washington has widened its claim that the Islamic Republic disallows any space for women, it has grown more detached from reality.
One tweet this past December maintained that the Iranian regime denies women the opportunity to “participate in public life” – during a month when Iranian female directors and actors were shining at the Tehran film festival. Women have long been engaged in almost every aspect of Iranian public life from politics to political activism and from diplomacy to flying planes and driving heavy trucks. But perhaps the most regrettable feature of this U.S. policy spotlighting the suppression of Iranian women’s rights is that it has damaged the activism and independence of the very women it claims to support.
Of course, and despite women’s prominence in public life, the Islamic Republic has a long and dismal record of keeping Iranian women second-class citizens in terms of civil and personal rights. The surge of women into higher education and the work force that accompanied the 1979 revolution galvanised women to demand more legal and social equality, not less. Yet the state has, for decades, defended a status quo of discriminatory laws like mandatory hijab. It was only in December 2019, under international pressure, that Iran’s Football Federation committed to allowing women to attend matches in the domestic club league.
Restrictions on women’s public conduct and appearance have sown increasing resentment and alienation, especially among millennial women and girls, who are less inclined than their elders to view the relaxation of rules as sufficient progress. As one 19-year-old sports champion put it: “My generation wants [dress codes] removed. We compare ourselves to the rest of the world, where everyone is modernising and evolving, and we find this strictness ridiculous”.
For much of the past two decades, the Iranian women’s movement has encompassed diverse strands of activism: there have been radical and gradualist wings, single-issue campaigns seeking an end to mandatory hijab or access to sports stadiums, drives to reform divorce and domestic violence laws, and grassroots efforts aimed at mobilising rural and working-class women behind such legal changes.
On occasion, these different currents have brought their particular struggles into the streets and endured crackdowns, before shifting course. The authorities have never smiled upon women’s activism, and every subset of the women’s movement, from state-affiliated religious feminists to secular-minded organisers, has encountered some level of official hostility and obstruction.
The authorities’ intolerance for women’s organising has grown so severe in recent years that most of the movement’s luminaries are now in prison, in exile abroad or in a self-imposed state of quiescence. But the state’s response has not been limited to repression. At times, it has grudgingly tolerated – and even conceded to – women’s demands as a reality with powerful electoral implications. Women’s turnout has been critical to presidential wins by more moderate candidates since the late 1990s, and politicians now regularly emphasise women’s concerns when courting voters.
The Trump administration is trying to appropriate the Iranian women’s cause. Whether they are skirmishing with authorities in anti-hijab street confrontations, joining labour protests, such as last year’s May Day demonstrations, or agitating against the government’s November hike in fuel prices, women have been active in airing specific grievances.
Most demonstrators have pointedly demanded an end to hijab laws, but they have received loud support – whether solicited or not – from anti-regime voices in Washington and among certain Iranian opposition figures outside the country, whose objective is toppling the regime.
If this external pressure was supposed to help, there is little evidence that it achieved its goal. Iran’s security apparatus, under siege and suspicious of citizens’ real or imagined links with the outside world, has over the past year doled out some of the severest sentences for women activists in recent memory.
In the 2000s and 2010s, Iranian women waged sophisticated and far-ranging battles against both discriminatory laws and the patriarchal culture, shared by men and women alike, from which those laws partly emanate. But in recent months, all those intense and public rows among women, between generations of activists with varying priorities, over whether the most suitable terrain was the family living room, one’s personal relationship or the public street corner, have fallen eerily silent. Internal debate among women activists in Iran now is largely about the frightening, pervasive threats to the country’s security and well-being.
A sanctions campaign as broad and blunt as that which the U.S. has built up is bound to have inadvertent consequences for the target population. As the economy reels from sanctions, women entrepreneurs, particularly those in cash-based or service industries, have been particularly hard-hit.
The 2010s saw a flourishing of women-owned businesses, with successes piling up in sectors women found themselves able to enter – from online clothing sales to cafés and restaurants. Those sectors might have appealed to women because they could better control their hours and workload, sidestep workplace exploitation or harassment, or discover opportunities for real economic advancement.
But as the Iranian currency began to sink in value in the summer of 2018, first in response to the Trump administration withdrawing from the nuclear deal, and then more precipitously, in anticipation of increasingly severe sanctions, sometimes falling by double digits in a single day, families coped by cutting back on leisure spending, on everything from clothes to hair salons to eating out. Small shops and retailers saw their revenue drop, while their rents skyrocketed.
“Many women I know, often younger women who used to be activists or journalists and had turned to running cafés, are now going out of business”, said Sussan Tahmasebi, a long-time civil society activist who retains close ties with women counterparts in Iran. “They’re not just losing economically, but losing that liberating force of being able to be financially independent”.
Sanctions have also forced tens of foreign firms to close shop and lay off Iranian workers. These companies tended to offer forward-thinking and empowering workspaces for women, setting high standards – everything from attractive salaries to more professional management and expected conduct – that Iranian companies would have to match. Some organised anti-sexual harassment training for employees, to bring them in line with minimal codes of conduct in European firms. Sanctions halted that progress.
The record thus appears clear: by imposing stifling sanctions, the Trump administration has deprived Iranian women of economic empowerment and the social independence that can accompany it; by politicising the women’s movement in the service of its own goals, it has exposed them to graver danger; and by zeroing in on women’s rights in Iran while it ignores them elsewhere in the Middle East, it has highlighted its own insincerity.
The monumental challenges that Iranian women face in fighting their government’s discriminatory laws and repressive policies are difficult enough without the debilitating impact of sanctions. If they could collectively send a message to Washington, they might draw from the words of the thirteenth-century Persian poet, Sa’adi, who said: “I do not expect any favours from you. Just do no harm”. [IDN-InDepthNews – 02 May 2020]
Women's branch of AK Party updates supporters on coronavirus outbreak
MAY 03, 2020
The women's branch of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has continued its work during the pandemic by keeping its 1.781 million members informed via videoconference and teleconference about the coronavirus outbreak and the measures to tackle it.
According to Anadolu Agency (AA), the head of the women's branch, LütfiyeSelvaÇam, reported that the women's branch held videoconferences with 27,992 neighborhood heads from 81 provinces and 922 districts. In lieu of weekly face-to-face meetings, 5,445 videoconference meetings were held to maintain ties with the party members.
The party's women's branches in 81 provinces also called almost 3 million members and reached 1.781 million of them, to inform them about the outbreak and social distancing. The party also asked for the demands and problems of its members and fulfilled the needs in accordance with the information received.
Speaking to AA, Çam said in this difficult process, unity is crucial for the country, adding that in order to achieve this, they, as the AK Party, are trying to keep in touch with the party members.
Çam stated that they conducted fieldwork at the beginning of the outbreak in 81 provinces and determined the needs and demands of the people.
"In this difficult process, we have tried to help our members feel that they are not alone. We have approached them over the phone and asked how they are while trying to respond to their needs," Çam stated. The branch also organized Ramadan-specific activities to strengthen the feeling of belonging, morale and motivation among its members. In this respect, with the slogan of "Türkiyem Hep Beraber" (My Turkey All Together), a series of events have been planned for the holy month. The party prepared calendars with prayers and arranged activities on it such as "Today we are planting flowers in our houses," or "Today we are cooking as a whole family." The calendars have been distributed to party members in 81 provinces.
Apart from the calendar, lists of recommended books, movies and documentaries were also distributed to the members. The activities have been shared on social media with the hashtag of #TürkiyemHepBeraber.
Meanwhile, aside from the women branch's work, the AK Party, in general, has accelerated its efforts to resume dialogue with members as constant videoconferences are ongoing with local branches. In these videoconferences, apart from updates on pandemic-related topics, the party also informs members of the government's ongoing work. The continuation of humanitarian aid for the needy during Ramadan is another major topic on the agenda of the videoconferences.
Health Minister FahrettinKoca announced Saturday that Turkey’s daily confirmed COVID-19 cases had dropped to below 2,000 for the first time since March 30, with recoveries having more than doubled.
The total number of fatalities has reached 3,336 with 78 new deaths, while the total number of recoveries topped 58,259, according to the minister's statement.
Almost 36,318 daily tests have been conducted, with 1,983 cases recorded in a single day, marking a continuing decrease in daily cases. More than 4,451 patients have recovered in a single day.
The country has recorded 3,336 deaths since the first diagnosed patient, while the number of patients still in intensive care stands at 1,445.
Egypt’s establishments move to back women amid pandemic
May. 4, 2020
CAIRO - 4 May 2020: The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with the National Council for Women (NCW) launched an initiative at the United Nations (UN) to support women amid a current lockdown to limit the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Egypt’s permanent representative to the UN ambassador Mohammed Idris said that the Egyptian delegation communicated with the executive director of the UN Women and the member states to exchange experiences in order to face the current challenge.
Idris added that the initiative asserts the Egyptian leadership in planning initiatives that support women amid the current pandemic.
He pointed out that the Egyptian delegation at the UN viewed the report made by the NCW that includes programs and suggestions to support Women.
Idris said that Egypt along with other countries presented a draft to the UN’s General Assembly in order to receive international support for women and girls suffering from the pandemic’s outcomes.
According to the statistics, Women working in the medical field represent 75 percent of the workforce, while in Egypt they represent 41.1 percent and 91.1 percent of the nursing field.
Israel's National Security Council Rejects Call to Add Women and Minorities to Coronavirus Expert Panel
May 03, 2020
Israel's National Security Council has rejected calls from social action groups to immediately correct the under-representation of women and minorities on the panel of experts advising the council on fighting the coronavirus.
Instead, the council suggested that groups send proposals “that will be examined by professionals,” who will then decide whether to bring them before the government.
The same answer was sent last week to women’s groups and other associations which protested the makeup of the team of experts. According to attorneys Neta Levi and Keren Horowitz, who petitioned the High Court of Justice on the matter, the council’s rejection and the state’s request to postpone the date of response to the petition “express contempt for women and for the law. Every day of emergency discussions without equal and diverse representation causes damage to women and to society in general.”
About three weeks ago, it emerged that the panel of experts advising the National Security Council on an exit strategy from the coronavirus pandemic consists of 31 members, including eight research assistances. All 23 experts – in economics, physics, psychology, and other fields – are men, and only two of the research assistants are women. Furthermore, there are no Arab representatives.
Public criticism, which included a letter of protest signed by more than 100 social action organizations, addressed both the lack of diversity and the absence of social welfare or education experts on the panel. The panel’s chairman, Prof. Eli Waxman of the Weizmann Institute of Science answered to a query that "the panel came together under short notice and spontaneously."
Later recommendations revealed that two female experts had been added to the committee, however, the council refused to give details on the new makeup of the panel.
A petition to the High Court of Justice called to compel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat to appoint women to the committee of experts, in particular Arab and ultra-Orthodox women.
It noted that the committee in its current makeup went against the principle of equality and the law on equal rights for women, which states that “expression must be given to proper representation of women of a variety of groups,” on public and policy-setting committees.
The petition was filed by Levi, of Itach-Maaci Women Lawyers for Social Justice, and Horowitz, of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women’s Status at Bar Ilan University, and was submitted on April 13 on behalf of 13 civil society groups.
After the petition was filed with the High Court, the National Security Council sent an identical response to all the complaints, opening with thanks “for you important letter,” and noting that it acts in accordance with the concept of “decision-making based on a broad picture, including reference to a comprehensive variety of sectors, disciplines and points of view, that improves the platform set before the government when it sets policy.” The response was written by Michal Yaniv, who heads the National Security Council’s public relations department.
Yaniv also noted that the council “would be happy to receive from you proposals of action in a variety of areas.” These areas would be, Yaniv wrote “those in which you believe that the challenge is not sufficiently met by the current policy,” and on subjects “which in your opinion should be examined from a different or additional point of view.”
It emerges from the council’s proposal to the organizations that they also respond “to issues in which government policy has already been set,” that the possibility of taking part in decision-making is limited. The National Security Council added that “to the extent that it will be found correct and if it is possible,” it would consider holding an online “roundtable” with men and women experts who will submit proposals.
According to attorneys Levi and Horowitz, the National Security Council’s suggestion that they send in proposals is “especially embarrassing in light of the High Court petition and cannot redress the defect of the lack of representation. Proposals presented to the team do not have the same weight as the presence of women experts, sitting at the table, exchanging opinions on a regular basis with other team members, and suggesting a variety of points of view on decisions.” They added that “proper representation is not ‘decoration,’ but a legal requirement intended to lead to the best solutions for the entire population.”
“The response we received does not speak of cooperation with local authorities, the addition of experts to the team or any other idea, but rather proposes that we send our ideas and ‘they’ will examine them and decide whether they are suitable to accept,” wrote Dr. GalitShaul a few days ago. Shaul is head of the EmekHefer Regional Council and a member of a forum of 14 women heads of local councils, one of the organizations that criticized the under-representation of women on the team of experts.
The High Court has in the past harshly criticized the lack of representation on boards of directors of government corporations, the Israel Land Council and other bodies. In hearing a petition on the lack of female representation in the committee that investigated the actions against the Marmara flotilla to Gaza 10 years ago, Justice Uzi Fogelman said: “Can it be that nowhere in Israel, among the abundant areas of activity and research here, not even one additional candidate with the skills and characteristics could be found?”
UN urges Iraq to pass laws to tackle domestic violence
April 17, 2020
Numerous UN offices in Iraq yesterday urged the government to expedite Anti-Domestic Violence Laws amid reports of a rise in such attacks during the coronavirus lockdown.
In a joint statement, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) cited several recent cases of domestic violence in Iraq including the rape of a woman with special needs, suicide due to domestic abuse, immolation and self-immolation as well as self-inflicted injuries due to spousal abuse, sexual harassment of minors and other crimes.
The statement added that the alarming rise of such crimes highlights the urgent need for parliament to endorse the Anti-Domestic Violence Law in Iraq.
“The UN in Iraq calls upon authorities to ensure that the judicial systems continue to prosecute abusers, invest more in hotline and online services, support the role of civil society organisations, keep shelter doors open for women fleeing abuse and punish perpetrators of any gender-based violence,” they said.
“The adoption of a law on domestic violence will help to ensure that perpetrators of gender-based violence in Iraq, such as those who carried out the heinous incidents seen in the recent past, are held accountable,” they added.
ISIS women in Turkey set free after top appeals court sets precedent in conviction reversal
May 4, 2020
In a sign that the wives of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants would receive a free pass upon their return to Turkey, the country’s top appeals court overturned the conviction of an ISIS woman who had come back from Syria.
In a unanimous May 15, 2019 ruling by the 16th Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals (Yargıtay) that overturned a lower court decision, a woman who was convicted of membership in ISIS was ordered to be released by the court.
The woman, not identified in the ruling, went to Syria with her children to join her husband, who was fighting for ISIS. She ultimately lost touch with her spouse, who had presumably been killed, and decided to return to Turkey, when she was caught at the border. She was indicted and tried on charges of membership in ISIS, convicted and sentenced to prison.
The conviction was upheld by the Gaziantep 4th Regional Appeals Court on October 2, 2018 and was sent to the Supreme Court of Appeals for final review.
In a landmark ruling that set a precedent for all cases of ISIS wives in Turkey, the Supreme Court of Appeals’ 16th Chamber, which hears cases involving terrorism and crimes against the state, decided in May 2019 that both the high criminal court in the border province of Kilis and the regional appeals court in Gaziantep had ruled incorrectly in her case.
The judges of the chamber stated that the woman went to Syria at the request of her husband within the framework of spousal obligation, stayed with her ISIS husband but harbored only sympathetic views for ISIS. They said the lower court made an incorrect assessment of the evidence collected against her by investigators. They overturned the conviction and ordered her immediate release.
The precedent set by the high court is already having an impact on the cases of other ISIS women who were caught in Turkey. In January 2020 the gendarmerie detained four women, including the wife of Mustafa Güneş, a senior ISIS figure who was running external intelligence ops for the jihadist network until he was killed in 2017. The women, who went to Syria to join ISIS in 2014, were brought to their home province of Kocaeli for legal proceedings, but the judge released all four at their arraignment on January 21, 2020.
In October 2019 Turkey repatriated 195 people from Syria who were linked to ISIS, many of whom were women and children. Most were let go after interviews with Turkish authorities. The lenient policy for ISIS women in Turkey also prompted non-Turkish ISIS women to seek legal residence when the possibility of deportation emerged.
Turkey is also seeking to repatriate Turkish ISIS women who were jailed in Iraq and is trying to find a way to facilitate their extradition, although the bilateral extradition treaty excludes crimes of terrorism. The number of Turkish women who are alleged to have been linked to ISIS is reported to be 250, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency. Dozens of them were sentenced to death, but their sentences were commuted to life in prison after the intervention of Turkish diplomats in Iraq.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on November 6, 2019 that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s wife, sister and brother-in-law were in Turkish custody. Erdoğan made the statement after al-Baghdadi was killed during a raid by US special forces on his home in Syria’s Idlib province on October 26.
‘Home is no longer safe’, Syrian refugee women in Jordan fear domestic violence more than COVID-19
By Nada Atieh, Alaa Nassar
May 03, 2020
AMMAN — As Jordan enters its sixth week of coronavirus-induced lockdown, victims of domestic violence, especially refugees, continue to suffer at the hands of their abusers with no end in sight.
In Zarqa, northeast of the capital Amman, Rawan—a 23-year-old Syrian refugee—takes care of her husband and three children. Her husband is a carpenter who has been unemployed since the quarantine began and all businesses were shut down on March 21.
Before the lockdown, Rawan’s husband would constantly curse and insult her. Now, he has started to hit her while chasing after women online. Most recently, he burned her for refusing to be intimate with him.
Her home “is no longer a safe place,” Rawan told Syria Direct. “The dangers of being trapped in a household with an abusive man outweigh the risk of catching the novel coronavirus,” she added.
Although there are no official numbers available at this time, Jordan has seen a notable increase in the number of domestic violence cases reported, Salma al-Nims, the secretary-general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW), told Syria Direct.
The JNCW serves as a hotline which refers women to civil society organizations that can help them while still operating remotely. While the Public Security Directorate-affiliated Family Protection Department (FPD) is operating and accepting cases, civil society organizations have not been authorized to work during this time.
“We immediately warned the government that there will be an increase in violence that may not be documented because women have less access to the usual networks that deal with violence to report it,” al-Nims said. “One of the things we told them is that there is a need for a clear message from the government that there is zero-tolerance for violence against women even in the curfew.”
Last month, Jordan witnessed two disturbing incidents when a woman was shot and killed by an unidentified person in the southern Ma'an province, while another woman was shot and injured by her husband after a dispute in Amman.
Organizations such as Sisterhood Is Global Institute/Jordan (SIGI) presented several proposals to confront the increasing violence and also called on the government to send messages through official channels to stress that domestic violence will not be tolerated, but they have not received any response to their proposals.
“The government has focused on protecting the country from the pandemic but has not addressed the social repercussions that these measures created,” Kristina Kaghdo, a women's rights activist and gender-based-violence expert who provides psychosocial support to refugee women in a community center in Amman, told Syria Direct.
Furthermore, most women, according to al-Nims, don’t want to file a complaint against their abusers and prefer the flexible alternative solutions civil society organizations offer.
“The refugee population would have one more obstacle. They want to be invisible as much as possible. Maybe they don’t have the papers that allow them to live in cities. They would not report [cases of abuse] and seek help because it would expose them to an authority they are afraid of,” Kaghdo added.
To that end, UNHCR is responding to victims remotely due to restrictions on movement. “UNHCR protection team is available 24 hours a day on a variety of hotlines and continues to deliver counseling. In addition, we are providing urgent cash assistance to victims of violence in cases where they may need to leave the places where they are living and seek safe shelter elsewhere,” Lilly Carlisle, UNHCR spokesperson, told Syria Direct.
But Rawan believes that these measures are simply not enough to support her or other victims. “UNHCR should have allocated shelters to provide us with protection. How will I benefit from speaking to them over the phone while I live with my abuser in the same house? Even if they give me money without protection.”
Syria Direct has not been able to obtain the number of registered cases of domestic abuse victims among refugee women since the beginning of the COVID-19 response. But according to Kaghdo, out of 9,000 reported cases of domestic violence in 2019, only about 168 were reported by Syrian women.
Walking away from an abuser can be a dangerous feat for domestic violence victims, and it may cause an abusive partner to retaliate in very destructive ways. Fear, shame, and love often keep victims mentally shackled to their abusers. However, undocumented or ambiguous immigration statuses coupled with weak support networks and lack of safe spaces make it even more impossible to break free.
Every time Rawan considers leaving, her family’s words reverberate in the back of her mind: “Do not ruin your home. If not for you, think of your children.”
“I complained to my family about him, but their words were, as usual, that I stay quiet and satisfied with the status quo,” Rawan told Syria Direct. “They asked me to bear it because this is a stressful period for everyone. Tomorrow the ban will be lifted, my husband will return to work, and the problems will go away (they said).”
Rawan’s family is concerned she will harm her family by losing custody over her children if she leaves. Women who do decide to speak up mostly turn to their families and friends rather than the police and FPD because of a lack of effective judicial response to their cases, said Rahaf Mohyiddin, a family and psychological specialist. Many are unaware of their rights and reported feeling an internal sense of alienation from their family and society, she added.
A 29-year-old Syrian mother of five children, Maysa, spoke to Syria Direct under a pseudonym about her entrapment in an abusive marriage. She was wed to a considerably older investor and company owner at 22 years old and celebrated for her good fortune, which was short-lived.
She was beaten for the first time on her wedding night. According to the husband, she recalled, it was a family tradition for the man to beat his wife on their first night together to establish dominance in the relationship. As the beatings continued, she summoned the courage to confide in her family and ask for help.
“They asked me to remain silent and content. They said I would not get a better groom than this man. My life continued this way for years. I gave birth to my five children through physical and verbal abuse that I was subject to even when we were intimate. I would cry and complain to my mother and she would repeat the same thing,” Maysa said.
Maysa’s family, concerned with the scandal it would cause if their daughter was to separate from her husband, emphatically refused to take her into their home. Further, her husband is connected to influential people and would pay any price to “take revenge” if she leaves, she said.
“Violence has become part of my life like the air I breathe and the food I eat. On the day he does not hit me, I feel accomplished,” she said. "My husband does not need justifications to abuse me. With or without the coronavirus pandemic, I will be beaten."
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