IRIN, March 24, 2009 - The UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Gaza, local Palestinian NGOs and mental health professionals are reporting increased incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault against women in Gaza since the beginning of 2009.
An unpublished UNIFEM survey of male and female heads of 1,100 Gaza households conducted between 28 February and 3 March indicates there was an increase in violence against women during and after the 23-day war which ended on 18 January.
“According to our staff, and through clinical observation, there was increased violence against women and children during and after the war,” said public relations coordinator for the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP), Husam al-Nounou.
“We can attribute this to the fact that most people were exposed to traumatic incidents during the war, and one way people react to stress is to become violent.”
GCMHP, which runs six clinics and treats an estimated 2,000 mental health patients a year, carried out a post-war assessment, interviewing about 3,500 Gaza residents, said al-Nounou.
“This war was extremely harsh, people felt insecure, vulnerable and unable to protect themselves, their children and their families; when people were trapped at home this increased the stress and anxiety,” said al-Nounou.
Sahar (who wanted her family name omitted), aged 36, divorced her husband in February due to the physical and psychological abuse she endured leading up to and during the war.
“He beat me severely and I was fainting from the stress,” said Sahar. “He forced me to engage in sexual intercourse against my will.”
Sahar brings her two-year-old daughter to the Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR) to visit the daughter’s father. The court ordered supervised visits after Sahar’s ex-husband and his brothers tried to take her daughter away by force.
“Before the war the centre was facilitating supervised visits for 30 families, but now it is doing this for 60 families,” said Bakr Turkmani, an attorney at the PCDCR....