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What to read on the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women Open in fullscreen

Kamal Afzali

What to read on the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Anti-femicide activists at a protest in Ankara on Saturday [AFP]

Date of publication: 25 November, 2020

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The New Arab has curated articles shedding powerful light on the pressing issue of gender-based violence across the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.
Wednesday marks the UN's International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

The shadow pandemic of gender-based violence has intensified with the outbreak of Covid-19. Lockdowns have left women trapped with their abusers, while essential services, such as domestic violence shelters and helplines, have been heavily strained.

A multi-year UN campaign to prevent and eliminate violence against women will this year amplify its calls for global action to address funding, ensure essential services for survivors during the pandemic and collect data which can improve those life-saving services.

The New Arab publishes features and opinion pieces which shed powerful light on the most pressing issues of gender-based violence across the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. Below, are three articles for you to read right now

Mariam Mohamed's death reignites Egypt's digital #MeToo movement

While Egyptian activists' and women's rights organisations have long spoken out against sexual assault, harassment and gender-based violence in Egypt, poor legal definitions and repercussions against accusers remain barriers to prosecution, something which discourages survivors from coming forward.

Elizabeth Neoman explores the resurgence of Egypt's digital feminist movement following the recent death of Mariam Mohamed, a 24-year-old Egyptian woman whose handbag was grabbed by three men in a microbus as she walked home in the Maadi neighbourhood of Cairo on October 13. The assault caused her to lose balance and get dragged underneath the moving car, which eventually led her to hit a parked car that fatally injured her.

Various media outlets reported that the perpetrators had sexually or verbally harassed her, but Egypt's Public Prosecution released a statement the day after with no mention of sexual harassment or assault. Leading feminist social media accounts, which had exposed sexual violence in the past, made posts demanding justice and accountability, prompting some social media users – mostly male – to accuse them of spreading "fake news".

Neoman says this event has become the latest catalyst for Egypt’s #MeToo movement, which began when an Instagram account exposed high-profile cases of sexual harassment and violence, including a prolific sexual predator at the American University of Cairo and a gang rape that took place in the Fairmont Nile City Hotel in Cairo in 2014.

The movement has led to legal reform, including a new law that protects the identity of accusers, while social media platforms where people can anonymously submit stories of public harassment and assault empower survivors.

"Being angry communally is very cathartic," said Sara, a 22-year-old student at the American University in Cairo. "The outrage on social media makes me feel that at least there are people who care, and that we can do something. I have hope that it will happen in this generation."

You can read the article here

Pakistan has a problem with rape, but castration is not the answer

In her first comment piece for The New Arab, Zahra Khozema reflects on the recent case of a woman dragged out of her broken-down car and gang raped in Pakistan after being denied help by traffic police. The heinous crime provoked public anger, which rose following apathetic victim-blaming remarks by the city’s police chief.

Pakistan is no stranger to violence against women: the country is ranked 164 out 167 on the Women, Peace and Security 2019 Index, only above Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen. Yet the most recent cases have been met with a proposition by Prime Minister Imran Khan some would consider extreme: to punish rape offenders with public hanging or chemical castration.

Khozema makes a strong case for, on the one hand, the catastrophic effects of authorities' inaction in perpetuating violence, which have prompted mass rallies demanding justice, and on the other hand, work to enact controversial bills which promote castrating offenders, a move she argues covers up state complicity in creating conditions which allow such crimes to take place.

"Political leaders engage in a rhetoric of hangings or executions to appease public wrath over state failures, to ensure justice and protection in cases of sexual violence instead of actually doing the hard work and bringing reform,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told Khozema.

Khozema wrote that despite how intuitive it may feel to want rapists to endure a version of the trauma they inflict on the victims, such a form of retribution is ultimately ethically wrong and fails to tackle the root cause of gender-based violence: the idea that rape is still considered a viable means to express power and domination.

You can read the article here

Brutal murder of young woman shines spotlight on Turkey's femicide epidemic

In late July, the strangled and battered body of 27-year-old university student Pinar Gultekin was found dumped in a bin in the southwestern Mugla province. Her murderer was reportedly driven by rejection after she chose to end the relationship.

Alessandra Bajec reported that Gultekin’s murder, which sparked outrage across the country, was just one case among a growing number of women killed by men in Turkey. With the annual figure doubling since 2012, the first half of this year saw at least 176 women killed by their current or former partners, male relatives or assailants. For the month of July, that figure stood at 36.

As thousands of women took to the streets, were arrested and faced tear gas and rubber bullets, officials from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party mulled whether to withdraw from a Council of Europe agreement, the world’s first instrument aimed at combating violence against women.

The Istanbul Convention of 2011, first ratified by Turkey, was designed to ensure the prosecution of perpetrators and provide appropriate protection to female victims. Yet Ankara has implemented it very poorly since 2012, something Bajec said coincides with increasing femicides and the deep-rootedness of misogynistic discourses and gender inequality in everyday life.

Turkey's conservative religious groups and Islamist circles remain staunchly opposed to the treaty and legislation, arguing it poses a threat to family structures and values. Misunderstandings about it derives from poor public awareness: a study by a research institute revealed that 51.7 percent of Turkey's population remained uninformed about the details of the pact.

Activists say the Istanbul Convention is key to preventing and combating gender-based crime and domestic violence, and that discussing whether to abandon a convention which saves the lives of women is simply unacceptable.

You can read the article here

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