'I don't want to die': MENA women are still waiting for the elimination of violence

'I don't want to die': MENA women are still waiting for the elimination of violence
Women continue to face extreme violence throughout the region, whether from former partners or while protesting on the streets.
8 min read
25 November, 2019
Several cases have highlighted women's struggle against violence this year [Twitter]
It was on Monday, this year's International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, that Ayse Tuba Arslan took her last journey in this world.

Amid the pained cries of her mother, the women of Odunpazari, Turkey, hoisted up Arslan's coffin to make their way to the burial grounds.

She had lost her life on Sunday after fighting injuries -sustained in an attack by her ex-husband - over the past 44 days. 

Arslan had taken out a restraining order against Yalcin Ozalpay, but the police failed to save her from the brutal assault to which she finally succumbed on Sunday.

She was not alone in losing her life in such an attack. 

More than 300 women in Turkey have been murdered so far this year, according to left-wing website bianet. Almost two-thirds were killed by their husbands or former partners, with 10 percent murdered by family members. Many of them had protection orders against former partners.

A tally produced by women's rights group We Will Stop Femicide puts the number killed at 373 in the first 10 months of 2019.

Violence against women has attracted particular attention in Turkey this year, with several horrifying cases shining a light on a problem that has risen dramatically in years.

According to We Will Stop Femicide, 121 women were killed in 2011.

In 2017 that figure was 409, while 440 were killed in 2018.

The killing of 38-year-old Emine Bulut in August sparked outrage across the country.

Bulut, who had divorced her husband four years earlier, was stabbed in a cafe in front of her 10-year-old daughter in the central Anatolian city of Kirikkale. She later died in hospital.

A video of the aftermath of the attack was posted online showing Bulut in the cafe, covered in blood, screaming to her daughter: "I don't want to die."

The tearful girl says: "Mum, please don't die."

Arslan, Bulut and the hundreds of other women killed in Turkey this year are not unique cases in the region.

Jordanian women demand an end to domestic violence

Across the region, women are demanding governments strengthen and enforce existing laws and introduce new protections to safeguard themselves from domestic violence.

Earlier this month, more than 300 women, men and children gathered under the pouring rain outside the office of Jordan's prime minister urging better social and legal protections for women facing violence at home.

The demonstration was prompted when Fatmeh Abu Akleek, a mother of three from Jerash, was subjected to a gruesome assault by her husband, who gouged out her eyes with his bare hands despite her desperate plea: "For God's sake spare my other eye, so that I can see and serve my children."

"Justice for Fatmeh… This is for your eyes Fatmeh," demonstrators chanted, according to The Jordan Times. "We want better laws to protect victims of domestic violence."

The struggle for women's rights in the kingdom has won several major victories in recent years, with lawmakers scrapping two controversial laws in 2017 that allowed lenient sentences for so-called "honour crimes" and permitted a rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim.

But Jordan, like many countries, still has a ways to go when it comes to women's rights.

Jordan is among more than 20 other countries, including Lebanon, Sudan and Saudi Arabia, which prevent women from passing down their citizenship to their children. This has rendered the children of women married to refugees without passports stateless.

The number of women facing domestic violence in the kingdom is hard to discern, with a powerful stigma and weak protections stopping many from reporting abuse. Just 19 percent of married women experiencing some form of domestic violence seek help, according to the Jordanian Women's Solidarity Institute.

Many women fleeing domestic abuse in the country can legally be imprisoned.

Amnesty International drew attention to the issue last month, urging Amman to "stop colluding with an abusive male 'guardianship' system to control women's lives and limit their personal freedoms".

The kingdom's Crime Prevention Law enables provinicial governors to send women to prison for a number of non-criminal reasons, including being "absent" from home without their male guardian's permission and sex outside marriage.

Almost 150 women are currently held in administrative detention. When Amnesty spoke to women accused of "absence" or sex outside marriage and jailed, they described having fled abusive family environments.

At least 20 Jordanian women have been killed so far this year, the Sisterhood is Global Institute (SIGI)-Jordan said.


The shocking killing of makeup artist Israa Ghrayeb in neighbouring Palestine provoked global uproar this year.

Ghrayeb, 21, allegedly provoked the fury of her brother, father and other male relatives for posting a video of herself during a chaperoned date with her fiancé online.

The video was reportedly seen by Ghrayeb's cousin who shared it with the family.

Just hours later, another video surfaced online depicting the moments before Ghrayeb's death where she was heard screaming for her life inside the hospital in which she was admitted for treatment after sustaining wounds in an earlier attack at home by her male relatives.

In the aftermath of the so-called "honour" killing, protesters for the slain woman in Palestine, shining a light on what they described an outdated legal system and calling on authorities to protect them from gender-based violence.

A 2019 survey conducted for BBC News Arabic by the Arab Barometer research network showed honour killings were considered acceptable by 27 percent of Algerians, 25 percent of Moroccans, 14 percent of Sudanese, 21 percent of Jordanians and 8 percent of Tunisians, Lebanese and Palestinians.

A woman's voice is revolution

Women have taken a central place in a year of unprecedented protests against entrenched rulers and political elites across the region.

Sudanese women took central stage during the mass protest movement that toppled former dictator Omar Al-Bashir in April. Women participating in the protests reported facing sexual harassment from security forces, in addition to tear gas and live fire.

Among the vestiges of Bashir's regime Sudanese women are still hoping to overthrow is the injustice women face under the public order law.

Women are punished for wearing "clothes that are obscene or contrary to public morality" with flogging and fines under the law. Such "obscene" clothes include trousers and knee-length skirts.

Although the law targets all genders for "indecent" behaviour, including brewing alcohol and dancing at private parties, women are disproportionately affected. Thousands of women are flogged every year.

After the overthrow of Bashir, women continued to participate in mass protest calling for civilian-led rule. The largest of those demonstrations, a weeks-long sit-in outside the army general command in Khartoum, culminated in the brutal massacre of more than 120 people.

During the sit-in massacre, tens of women and men were reportedly raped by paramilitary forces. Several of the women victims have reportedly since died by suicide.

Women have similarly taken to the streets in Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon this year. 

A number of high-profile participants in Iraq's mass anti-corruption movement have been subject to mysterious abductions. 

Among them was Saba al-Mahdawi, kidnapped in the capital Baghdad earlier this month. Activists fear that the same radical militiamen suspected to be behind the killings of several Iraqi women last year may have abducted Mahdawi.

Human rights activist Souad al-Ali, beauticians Rafif al-Yassiri and Rasha al-Hassan, and social media star Tara Fares were all shot dead in suspicious circumstances last year.

Rights activists imprisoned, tortured

Recent reforms introduced by Saudi Arabia have given some hope for women's rights in the ultraconservative kingdom.

Last year, after a decades-long struggle, women were finally granted the right to drive. This year, Saudi Arabia relaxed male guardianship laws, allowing women over-21 to travel abroad without a guardian.

But the reforms have been slammed by critics who argue the women who campaigned for change for decades are languishing in prison while Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman reaps the benefits of international praise.

Saudi Arabia jailed 11 women's rights activists last year, five of whom remain in prison and all of whom are still on trial on charges described by Amnesty as "bogus".

Several of the women have alleged facing torture and sexual harassment, including threats of rape, while in prison.

"The charade should no longer go on that the Saudi authorities can grant reforms on the one hand and on the other imprison the women who fought for them," Rothna Begum, senior women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said earlier this year. "Saudi authorities need to release these women immediately and have all charges against them dropped."

Mel Plant is a journalist for The New Arab. Follow her on Twitter: @meleppo

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