Hard Times in Gaza: the BBC looks at Domestic Violence in Gaza Strip

Krista recently did an analysis of a BBC profile of Egyptian women’s participation in mosques and saw the BBC profile as an example of how to cover Muslim women. The BBC has done another profile, this time of Gazan women dealing with domestic violence. I think the BBC has once again demonstrated how to cover Muslim women.

Image via BBC story.

Psychiastrist Suha Mousa. Image via BBC story.

With the exception of a few ethnocentric flubs, like telling us the women are in headscarves (uh, we could tell from the pictures) or saying that in eastern societies there is nowhere to turn for women in distress (Eastern societies aren’t a monolith and this leaves out places that do aid women), the BBC article was spot-on and an impressive look at domestic violence in Gaza. There’s no blaming Islam or portraying Muslim men as “evil bearded monsters out to kill their women”. The BBC gives us a nuanced look at the reason for the rise in domestic violence in the region, as well as how it’s being addressed.

Reading the article, we see abuse victims in Gaza much the same way that we see abuse victims in any part of the world. Like other abuse victims, it is hard to leave their abusive situation for a variety of reasons: economic hardships that might be incurred by leaving a family support system, not wanting to bring embarrassment to themselves or their family, not wanting to make a “private” situation public, etc. While the reasons they may not want to leave maybe shared by other women around the world, the BBC rightly shows how the situation for women in Gaza is also unique.

There’s no shelters for abused women in the area. This is obviously an issue since victims of domestic violence need a safe place to stay for themselves and their families if they want to leave. Without it, leaving the abusive situation is much harder. Fortunately, there are clinics for the women to receive anti-depressants and therapy, but at the end of the day, they still have to return to the same situation.

The author, Katya Adler, also looks at Hamas’ role. She interviews a a female MP from Hamas, who seemed to be very honest and frank in her comments about the situation of women in general in Gaza, saying things like “From the moment of birth, a baby boy is celebrated. A baby girl is accepted.” Unfortunately, she did not really address what Hamas is doing to help victims of domestic violence as well as the perpetrators. This is definitely a serious issue that Hamas has to address.

What I really appreciated about the article the most is the humanized look at what men in Gaza go through. The BBC points out the economic and social pressure that men are under in Gaza and how this unfortunately drives some men to become abusive. Adler points out how the blockade by Egypt and Israel has made it harder to Gazan men to find work and fulfill the societal gender role placed on them (that of economic provider). Abu Fahdi, a counselor and former abuser, sums up the situation for Gazan men in this quote:

“For us, the war really begins after the military war is over,” he told me. “Here in Gaza men are supposed to be providers. The siege, the strikes, in one way or another they affect all households in Gaza – poverty, hunger, homelessness.

“Men are really frustrated. They sometimes take it out on their wives. She’s in front of them every day.”

I’m glad that Abu Fahdi gave this quote and was interviewed by the BBC, because it shows that domestic violence is definitely not a black or white situation for women or men and that there are a lot of factors that create ripe situations for domestic violence to occur. While this quote may sound apologist in nature, it really gives a glimpse into why men take out their frustration on their wives and families. Additionally, since Abu Fahdi is currently a counselor and former abuser, it definitely shows that an abuser does not always have to remain one.

Adler has produced a well-thought-out piece on domestic violence in Gaza that highlights the frustrations of both abusees and abusers without relying on stereotypes. It was great to read an article that looked at the effect of economic deprivation suffered by Gazans, as well as economic and mental distress caused by the constant conflict with Israel on Gazan gender relations.

  • http://www.muslimahonadiet.blogspot.com muslimahonadiet

    Salam Faith, very interesting & insightful article. Domestic abuse is definitely something that is kept hush hush in our Muslim societies. I think it is horrible that these women have to go through this, not only fear for their lives as the Israeli occupation continues, but also at home. The emotional, psychological and physical trauma, leaves these women not just scarred but spiritually struggling. Feeling lost and abandoned in this dunya from the same men that vow to protect them. Insha’Allah will make duas for them. At the end of the day, we are all women, and if it happens to them, it also happens to me.

  • http://myownpinkworld.blogspot.com Pink

    assalamu `alaykum wa rahmatullah
    Thank yo uso much for highlighting good media coverage of Islam and Muslims. Your reviews is very well-written.

  • http://myownpinkworld.blogspot.com Pink

    [unlike my typo-ridden comment :( ]

  • Aliya

    The BBC has really been getting better and better in the past few years. Thanks for posting this!

  • Leila

    I am truly saddened by the way this article was written. It’s unfortunate in our haste to dismantle Islamophobia that we stoop to such levels.

    I do not take issue with the idea that war and oppression might cause an increase in cases of domestic violence.

    But what saddens me is the enthusiasm with which this author has for the quote she highlighted. Let us be frank. Rich white men abuse women as much as oppressed palestinian men do. So trying to highlight “frustration” as being a central reason for abuse does violence to abused women everywhere.

    Why is that we have to sell our souls in order to save our communities? MMW shouldn’t put us in that position.

  • Faith

    Thanks for the comments.

    Leila: Frustration may also be a cause for rich white men to abuse too. It doesn’t mean we’re trying to sell our souls. I think the point I was making and the BBC article was making was that men who abuse have horrible coping skills for their frustrations and issues. The way for these men to regain “control” is to reassert control in the domestic sphere by abusing their partners.

  • Fatimah

    I agree with Leila. Domestic violence is a universally occurring crime against women. It crosses national, racial-ethnic, cultural, religious, and socioeconomic groups. If Palestinian men abuse because of their poverty and the occupation, why do wealthy white executives abuse? Why do comfortable, middle class Israeli men abuse?

    I am not aware of the latest research on such matters, so I cannot say definitively if and to what extent poverty impacts the rates of domestic violence. However, I do not believe in ‘sympathy’ for abusers. I have read a great deal about the psychology of abuse, and regardless of ethnicity, religion, or anything else, abusers know exactly what they are doing. There is no excuse.

  • Faith

    Fatimah, not all men abuse for the same reasons. Of course the ultimate reason that domestic violence occurs is cultural misogyny and the acceptance of violence against women. However, individually, the impetus for abusive situations will be different depending on various factors. Of course, a wealthy white man may not be frustrated because of economic. Perhaps there is some issue at play that pushes him and tragically, causes him to become abusive. Maybe abusers don’t deserve sympathy but I do think we have to get to a point where we ask what demonization of abusers accomplishes. If I could decide to not have sympathy for an abusers and let him stay as he is or try to have some empathy (which as a woman would be difficult) with an abuser and see him get help, I’m going with the later option.

    Men who abuse are extreme manifestations of a global masculinity which defines men as being powerful and strong, etc. and men who fail to fit this definition as being failures and weak. If we attack abusers, then at the very least let’s attack the gender norms and masculinity that creates them. Abusers don’t exist in a vacuum.

  • laila

    I agree with Faith, we have to “attack the gender norms and masculinity that creates them” or else we won’t solve the problems. Hamas female MP said “From the moment of birth, a baby boy is celebrated. A baby girl is accepted.”

    Men aren’t born abusers their created by a society that gives them a male privilege, that makes them entitled to behave in such a manner. We give men unearned advantages, we over-reward them, and put them ahead because of their gender. We made men and boys believe they should have more authority than us and some men will affirm their authority over women through physical abuse, others through economic abuse. Our cultures and societies maintain and reforce the believe that men are the dominant power and women should be subordinate to them.

    One solution is to address and stop the patriarchy in our communities, which creates these adverse effects.