Breaking the Cycle of Gender- Based Violence in Palestine

Date: Thursday, April 18, 2019

Two prevention group members in Jerusalem discussing societal restrictions on males and females as part of the youth-parent workshop held in Anata. Photo Credit: PCC

The results of the 2017 UN Women and Promundo-supported International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES-MENA) Survey conducted in the State of Palestine demonstrated that “65 per cent of men and 55 per cent of women reported experiencing one or more of twelve forms of occupation-related violence within the previous five years. Analysis shows that being exposed to occupation-related violence and adversity is tied to increased depressive symptoms, experiences or perpetration of intimate partner violence, and experience or perpetration of sexual harassment, among other possible connections. For example, 15 per cent of men who haven’t experienced occupation-related violence reported perpetration of physical or sexual intimate partner violence while 22 percent of men who experienced occupation-related violence reported perpetration of physical or sexual intimate partner violence.” These anxieties can be exacerbated by the constant impact of the occupation on many aspects of Palestinian life. In Ramallah, the Palestinian Counseling Center (PCC), in partnership with UN Women, is pioneering a programme to address violence caused by the psychological stress observed in the community and gender discrimination, including bullying among children and verbal and physical violence by men against their spouses.

The PCC is using the findings of IMAGES-MENA to guide and inform its work to break the cycle of violence inside the community, between boys and girls, husbands and wives, including bullying at school. IMAGES has been essential in helping UN Women and its partners to target populations to enhance gender equality.

The PCC was founded in 1983 by Mubarak Awad. At the time, there was no psychotherapy or trauma counselling available in Palestine. Murad Amro, the PCC Senior Clinical Unit Specialist, said, “Since the founding of the center, there has always been support for women’s rights, gender equality, and children’s rights.” The PCC’s main strategies include direct intervention through the provision of therapeutic services to individuals, couples, families and groups who suffer from psychological problems; prevention of developing psychological problems for marginalized groups who are often at greater risk; capacity building for organizations and individuals specialized in mental health, lobbying and advocacy for improvement of legislation, policies and procedures around mental health; as well as providing emergency intervention in times of crisis.

In collaboration with UN Women, the Center addresses unhealthy behaviors in the community while offering intensive therapy to individuals in need. “We offer individualized interventions to children who are violent or who experience serious problems at home,” he added.

PCC staff visit factories in Ramallah and Nablus to hold special group meetings with the male workers during their work breaks, as part of the men engagement component of the programme and the focus groups with men included in it. They discuss gender roles, violence in intimate relationships, and the unequal distribution of labor and responsibilities between men and women in the community.

“In the beginning,” Murad said, “many men spoke about women in a way that was ‘macho’, and stereotypical, demonstrating an aggressive attitude towards women. But then a shift occurred in their behavior in how they communicate in the group meetings, and how they talk about the roles of men and women in the home and in the community. In factory meetings, the men brought up their fears and worries, including how much time they are able to spend with their wives and children”. These concerns are often tied to the experience of extreme economic precarity and the violence of occupation, said Murad.

Basel Ishtayeh, a public relations and advocacy officer with the PCC, said that “in Palestine, in general, women are exposed to a lot of gender-based violence. The focus of our collaboration with UN Women is to prevent this violence against women and girls. A big part of the work is examining bullying and the violence that stems from it later in life.” He added, “Sometimes bullies are people traumatized during their childhood due to having one of their parents arrested or killed because of the occupation.”

Basel, also, noted that most young people in Palestine are not heavily exposed to the opposite gender until university and their early 20s, which makes them less culturally sensitive and socially aware of how to behave. Basel reported that many young boys in the communities in which the PCC works are convinced that girls are incapable of taking their own decisions and that men must take decisions for them. Basel noted that it’s important to counteract these harmful gender stereotypes among boys, and stem bullying before it starts.

Massa Hlehel, from Nablus, is 18 years old. She participated for a year in the PCC’s anti-bullying programming, and says it changed her deeply. She joined in with other girls whom PCC selected in an array of activities like board games, soccer, and discussions addressing aggression and violence.

Massa described some of the activities the girls did with PCC to increase the knowledge of the youth regarding different forms of violence including GBV, child and women’s rights, and gender equality: “We took balloons and we wrote slogans against bullying on them. Sundus [a PCC trainer in Nablus] brought us a blackboard, on which we wrote out definitions of bullying, and about our rights. We also wrote out questions challenging gender norms on the board, like, ‘Why can’t girls ride motorcycles?’”

Profoundly shaped by her time with PCC, Massa said that now her goal is to become a social worker and open a center that teaches anti-bullying strategies. She added, “We need to spread these ideas. People are getting hurt from bullying—especially girls.”

One 16-year-old boy, also from Nablus, was reached by the PCC and found the experience has been life-changing. He participated in PCC’s anti-bullying programme from December 2017 to August 2018. He said, “I used to be violent. Anybody who I had a problem with I used to fight”.

“The head of my school came to me and suggested I join the PCC program. I had problems with teachers and students in school.” the young boy added. “And since joining their program,” he said, “PCC has really influenced me. Now I know that a conflict or disagreement should never end in fighting.”

And seeing how much PCC’s anti-bullying work has calmed his aggression and helped him stay out of trouble in school and on the streets, the boy, like Massa, said he wants to teach others how to de-escalate conflicts too. “Once I get out of university, I want to teach kids the anti-bullying ideas just like [PCC trainer] Sundus taught me.”