COVID-19 and Israeli annexation pose new challenges to civil society and community participation in occupied Palestinian territories, writes Dr Ibrahim Natil.
PALESTINIAN civil society and women, in particular, have been living in harsh, severe circumstances owing to political shifts and economic circumstances. The threat of Israeli occupation, annexing up to 30% of the West Bank has already increased pressure on the Palestinian people.
Violence against women in Palestinian territories is a serious issue, due to the long history of conflict in Palestine and Israel, and the socio-economic circumstances that have existed since Israeli occupation in 1967. Gendered discrimination and violence are heightened in contexts of fragility, conflict, displacement and emergency.
Palestinian women in Gaza suffer from high level of violence, poverty, lack of opportunities and despair. They are subject to psychological abuse, cursing, insults, and yelling.
The second most prevalent form of abuse against women since the last Israeli military operation during the summer of 2014 was economic devastation.
COVID-19 and domestic violence
These circumstances have been getting worse since the beginning of this year, as eleven women were killed. On April 20, 2020, Al Jazeera reported that at least five women have been killed at the hands of their abusers since the coronavirus lockdown. The violence against women has increased in Gaza during quarantine and lockdown, as COVID-19 risks exacerbating women’s vulnerabilities and gender inequalities in Palestine.
Even before COVID-19, however, the rates of violence against women was high in Gaza.
The factsheets of SAWA, a Palestinian West Bank-based organisation, indicate that calls from women seeking support increased from 40% to 58% when the hotline extended its hours (indicating that women had not found the time or privacy to call), with calls regarding abuse and domestic violence from partners increasing by 38%.
A United Nations Women's study, however, found in 2017 that 80% of men and 48% of women believe that men should be the decision-makers at home.
CARE International reports that women comprise only 5% of Palestinian Central Council members, 11% of the Palestinian National Council, 14% of the Council of Ministers, one woman governor out of 16, 44% of all employees in the public sector and 13% of women public sector employees hold the rank of Director General or higher.
Despite the health, political and economic shifts, women’s participation in community and political organisations supporting the COVID-19 response is marginal, with implications for its reach and impact.
Shifts and defiance
Despite significant contributions by the Palestinian civil society organisations, they faced major challenges as a result of the repercussions of the successive crises striking the Palestinian community.
These shifts have already posed a serious challenge to the effectiveness of civil society organisations which provide services to the residents of the sector in fields, such as education and health, and improving livelihoods, unemployment and infrastructure projects.
However, many organisations as the Society Voice Foundation (SVF) still continue to empower young people, fight violence against women and promote women’s engagement in community peacebuilding, despite the difficulties the pandemic has caused.
SVF has succeeded in implementing six public online meetings to discuss the mechanisms of participation in decision-making, the role of media, the empowerment of women and the promotion of human rights and community peacebuilding. This includes implementing psychological and social support sessions for children who are in need of play, have fun and carry out some activities in the post-school stage.
In addition, marginalised and vulnerable women in wider society still initiate local activities and initiatives, defying and challenging the status quo. These women hope and seek a better life.
Dr Ibrahim Natil is a lecturer at Dublin City University. He is a human rights campaigner and a Fellow at the Institute for International Conflict Resolution. You can follow Dr Natil on Twitter @Natilibrahim.
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