Discriminatory laws, traditional practices and a severe shortage of emergency shelters combine to perpetuate violence against women by their family members and intimate partners in the Palestinian territories, according to a report that was issued yesterday by Human Rights Watch.
The report, A Question of Security: Violence against Palestinian Women and Girls, is based on extensive interviews over the last year with victims, police officers, social workers and officials of the Palestinian Authority.
It says that while there is "increasing recognition of the problem" of violence against women and girls by the authorities, "little action has been taken to seriously address these abuses."
The report says: "there is some evidence that the level of violence is getting worse while the remedies available to the victims are being further eroded."
The offenses include domestic violence, rape, incest, child abuse and violent responses to crimes such as adultery that embarrass the family or community.
Laws dating from Jordanian administration in the West Bank and Egyptian administration in the Gaza Strip do not fully protect the rights of women, the report says.
For example, the laws provide reduced penalties for men who kill or harm female relatives who are accused of committing adultery, allow only male relatives to file incest charges on behalf of minors and absolve from criminal prosecution rapists who agree to marry their victims and remain married for three years, the report said.
Rape laws distinguish between victims who are virgins and those who are not. Husbands may divorce wives at will with verbal notification while wives must obtain a divorce in court and can only initiate divorce on the basis of inflicted harm.
The report urges the Palestinian Authority to change laws or enact new ones that criminalize family violence and to repeal provisions that perpetuate or condone such violence.