37% of Arab women have experienced violence, UN workshop hears

Lebanese women at a protest in Beirut calling for an end to domestic violence and the prosecution of men who kill their wives. Regional campaigners are asking for laws that help to challenge the acceptance of violence. (AFP)
Updated 20 September 2018

37% of Arab women have experienced violence, UN workshop hears

  • A UN workshop in Beirut has been getting to grips with a critical issue for the Arab region
  • Of ESCWA’s 22 member states, countries that are considered to have adequate laws in place include Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Tunisia, Morocco and Lebanon

BEIRUT: Arab women and their protection took center stage at a regional workshop held by the UN in Beirut this week.

Held on Tuesday and Wednesday at the United Nations House in the Lebanese capital, the workshop to support women in the Arab region was organized by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the Arab League. 

The aim was to address violence against women and highlight the role of international and regional bodies specializing in women’s issues, as well as their impact on the development of policies, strategies, national laws and standard services to address the issue.

“Violence against women is one of our key pillars, and we chose the topic based on the request from our Arab member states,” said Mehrinaz El-Awady, director at the ESCWA Center for Women. “Most of our work is related to eliminating violence. We do studies and a lot of capacity-building on certain topics.”

The center conducted a number of studies on the topic this year, adding to its seven years of cumulative work on the issue. The studies are complemented by workshops to fill the knowledge gap. 

“There are a lot of initiatives done by national women’s machineries, which are the government offices, departments, commissions or ministries that provide leadership and support to government efforts to achieve greater equality between women and men, but they are not all aligned with international institutions, policy and gender equality in general,” El-Awady said. “There are specific requirements for legislation on violence against women, and we have six Arab countries that have done this legislation, yet we need more alignment on these legislations, to have a broader definition on violence against women.” 

She spoke of the potential in Arab countries to eliminate violence, which the UN wishes to build on. “We’re introducing international instruments on violence against women and key pillars that should be legislation on the topic,” El-Awady said. 

“It should cover prevention, protection, prosecution and rehabilitation, and we’re picking some of the examples of countries that have done legislation, allowing them to present the newly developed laws so other countries that haven’t had a law would be encouraged to follow the same path.”

Of ESCWA’s 22 member states, countries that are considered to have adequate laws in place include Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Tunisia, Morocco and Lebanon. In 2013, Saudi Arabia passed legislation to protect women, children and domestic workers against domestic abuse. It was followed earlier this year by an anti-harassment law. 

Other countries are said to deal with violence against women under the penal code, which ESCWA is advocating against. “When you have violence against women in a penal code, it loses the privacy,” she added. “It’s not violence from an intimate partner.”

According to UN Women, one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence at least once, mostly by an intimate partner. In some countries, that figure is as high as 70 per cent. Globally, almost four in every 10 female homicide victims are killed by intimate partners.

Violence against women has risen in the past few years in the region, which, according to the World Bank, has the lowest number of laws protecting women from domestic violence in the world. UN Women estimates 37 per cent of Arab women have experienced violence, with indicators that the percentage might be higher. 

“The region has had a prevalence of violence against women, and it’s one of the things we’re trying to support countries (in),” El-Awady said. 

“We hope Arab member states are more sensitive to the requirement of legislation on violence against women and start the consideration of having a protection order with the legislation to complement it. There’s a momentum and Arab countries are now more alert — it’s a phenomenon that requires attention from them.” 

Women and girls make up 70 per cent of all known human-trafficking victims. Adult women constitute 50 percent of the total number of trafficked people, while two in three child victims of human trafficking are young girls. 

Rapists are often shown leniency or even acquitted in the Arab region if they marry their victims. In Morocco, Article 475 of the penal code, which allowed rapists to avoid prosecution if they marry their victims, was repealed in 2014 following the suicide of a rape victim who was forced to marry her rapist. Today, 700 million women have been married under the age of 18, and 14 percent of Arab girls marry under the age of 18.

“Violence against women has multiple consequences, at the individual level, within the family, community and wider society,” said Manal Benkirane, regional program specialist at UN Women’s Regional Office for Arab States. “It can lead to fatal outcomes and have a significant burden on the economy. Despite the ongoing efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls in the region, its prevalence and social acceptance remain high.”

She stressed the importance of having enabling legislative frameworks to change the social norms and acceptance of violence, and to ensure women’s access to services that meet their needs. “Otherwise, women in the region end up being violated twice, first when they are subjected to assault, and second when they are denied their right to care and support,” she said. “This workshop offers the space for participating countries to share their experiences, achievements but also challenges they faced in addressing violence in the region.”

More than six in every 10 women survivors of violence refrain from asking for support or protection. The remaining ones who speak up turn to family and friends.

Globally, the total direct and indirect costs of violence against women for countries are estimated to be as high as 1 to 2 percent of their gross national product, which amounts to millions of dollars worldwide. 

“Violence against women (has) become a critical issue in the Arab region,” said Shaza Abdellateef, head of women in the women, family and childhood department at the Arab League’s social affairs sector. 

“This is especially pronounced under the recent circumstances that some Arab countries suffer from, with the spread of armed conflicts, refugees and the increase of violence against women, including domestic violence. It is one of the most important issues in the Arab region today.”

 


Is Egypt close to finding Cleopatra’s tomb?

Many Egyptologists believe that Cleopatra’s tomb is located in Alexandria, where she was born and ruled from her royal palace. (Supplied)
Updated 14 July 2020

Is Egypt close to finding Cleopatra’s tomb?

  • Rival theories hold key to solving mystery of queen’s burial crypt

CAIRO: More than 2,000 years after her death, Cleopatra — the enigmatic queen of the pharaohs — is creating a riddle for archaeologists desperate to find her tomb.

Conflicting reports and news stories on the undiscovered burial crypt are making the search for the elusive tomb increasingly confusing.

Foreign media claim the recent uncovering of two mummies in Egypt will help in the hunt for the tomb, a puzzle that continues to elude archaeologists.

The UK newspaper The Guardian reported that two mummies of high-ranking individuals who lived during the same period as Cleopatra were found 30 km from Alexandria, the Egyptian city overlooking the Mediterranean.

The newspaper said that although the burial chamber was hidden for 2,000 years, the mummies were in poor condition due to water leaks.

However, a source in the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities said that the discovery reported by The Guardian is not new and happened several years ago.

Evidence revealed that the mummies were originally completely covered in gold leaf, a luxury granted only to those from the highest class of society.

Archaeologists say the two may have known Cleopatra herself.

Many Egyptologists believe that Cleopatra’s tomb is located in Alexandria, where she was born and ruled from her royal palace.

The city was destroyed in A.D. 365. Experts believe the last remnants of the tomb could be about 50 km away in the ancient temple of Taposiris Magna, built by the Ptolemies, the Greek rulers of ancient Egypt, in the Nile delta.

The temple is said to contain hidden paths and tombs. Cleopatra’s tomb is thought to be located there, decorated with gold leaf. Researchers say the tomb will answer 2,000-year-old questions surrounding her death.

FASTFACT

A source in the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities said that the discovery reported by The Guardian is not new and happened several years ago.

However, Salwa Hussein, a professor of Greek and Roman antiquities at Tanta University, said that there is no scientific evidence of her burial in the region.

Cleopatra was no ordinary person, and her tomb must be in a more important and visible place, he added.

“She was the last queen of Egypt and one of the most famous rulers in history. She married the Roman emperor Julius Caesar and fell in love with his minister, Antonio. The queen committed suicide with Antonio in 53 B.C. after the Roman leader Octavian captured her in Alexandria,” Hussein said.

According to the legend, Cleopatra directed servants to smuggle snakes into her cell, which poisoned and killed her.

Zahi Hawass, an Egyptian archaeologist and former minister of state for antiquities affairs, hopes there are further attempts to locate the tomb.

“We have only discovered 30 percent of Egyptian antiquities. The rest have not yet been discovered. We are very close to finding the right location for the tomb. We hope we are on the right track,” he said.

Hawass said he believed Cleopatra and Antonio were buried in the same grave.

However, a number of Egyptian archaeologists disagree.

According to the book “Alexandria ... the Library and the Academy in the Ancient World” by Mohamed Abdel-Moneim Amer, Cleopatra’s tomb was not far from the tomb of Alexander the Great.

Alexander’s tomb in Alexandria, said to be made of gold, was taken by Ptolemy XI in 101 B.C. and replaced with a glass sarcophagus.

Amer said that Cleopatra lived in an era of droughts, as evidenced by valuables found in the tombs of her family.

Archaeologist Alaa El-Shahat said that Cleopatra’s tomb, as well as the rest of the tombs of the Ptolemaic kings, are located in the royal district in the middle of modern-day Alexandria.

The district was home of royal palaces and theaters, such as Kom Al-Dikka, the Roman theater.

El-Shahat said it was possible that the tomb is located in a central neighborhood.