A string of killings across the Arab world should be bigger news and a sign that a lot more needs to be done to protect women who don't conform to narrow expectations.
When writing on violence against women, it is difficult to isolate where, exactly, the discussion should begin. To clarify, a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime highlights, that in the private sphere, an average of 137 women across the world were killed per day in 2017 by a partner or family member – thus making the home, the idyllic safe-haven, the most likely place a woman would be slain.
These alarming statistics are indicative of a long-time trend of femicide globally; be it in the public or private sphere. Adding to this disturbing finding is the fact that it remains that most cases of domestic, sexual, and other types of violence against women go unreported - implying that the numbers, in reality, are much higher.
As this global study shows, while this affects women from Africa, Asia, to Europe, with it’s codified discrimination against women in the Arab world, the view in the Middle East is just as grim.
However, rather than discuss, the rightfully considered issues of domestic violence and femicide, crimes taking place in the private sphere, there too are some crimes taking place in public. This is particularly problematic as little, if any, action, is taken in these widely broadcasted cases setting a poor precedent for a region rife with the maltreatment of women.
The most recent case, or rather a string of cases, took place in Iraq in September this year.
Tara al-Fares, a high-profile social media celebrity, known widely for her progressive lifestyle and her, contextual, rebelliousness, was shot in broad daylight in Baghdad. She was assassinated on a busy street, and the act was caught on camera.
Her murder came in conjunction with the deaths of three other high profile Iraqi women: Suad al-Ali, a women’s rights activist, who was also shot in broad daylight in Basra on the way to her car. Weeks before that, two more Iraqi women, both beauticians that were publically criticised were killed one week apart. Dr Rafifi al-Yasiri, who was widely criticised, called the “Barbie of Iraq” due to her stance that changing physical appearance is an empowering experience for women, suspiciously died of a drug overdose. Rasha al-Hassan was found in her home, and the cause of death remains unclear.
There is little to indicate that this will be a priority for the Iraqi government, given the regional climate on such matters. Particularly, when considering their neighbour and ally, Saudi Arabia has a number of female rights activists imprisoned awaiting the death penalty due to activism on women’s right to drive in the country. This is in addition to reports of torture of these women emerge.
Three different sources have reported instances of electrocution, whipping, sleep deprivation and sexual exploitation according to the Wall Street Journal, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.
It is a chronic pattern of the Arab world to imprison or harm influential women who are positioned and working towards changing the status quo. This need not even be through advocacy as is the case with the Saudi women, but merely presenting a model of independent female success.
Three years ago in Jordan, two sisters, Soraya and Jumana Salti, both successful, independent women were found dead under suspicious circumstances. The bodies of both women were found at the foot of a construction site in a run-down area of the capital city.
Soraya headed the Injaz Al Arab education project that promotes entrepreneurship in the region, and Jumana was a director at PricewaterhouseCoopers. The women were found to have fallen from a building alongside a barely legible suicide note addressed to their parents, who refuse to acknowledge that their daughters would commit suicide.
Many disputed, strongly, that the sisters would ever kill themselves. However, the case has since been closed with no genuine investigation conducted.
Women are growing increasingly unsafe in both public and private spaces with studies indicating increased violence against them. Through the disregard of these high profile cases, the governments of these countries are sending a clear message: women, you are not protected by your state.
This may even be emboldening men to continue to behave as though women are their property without repercussion. Crimes against women in and outside the household will not decrease until governments around the world, and specifically in the Arab world, see women as equal and protect them as such.
Through adjusting laws, as was done recently in Tunisia, ensuring women now have equal inheritance rights – governments begin to set ideological precedents which society can mould around.
Codifying equality has become an unfortunate necessity to progress. Only with governments acting as partners to women instead of adversaries and ensuring their protection, will society follow suit.
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