At least 35% of women in MENA have experienced some form of violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime – placing MENA second highest in the world. In all probability, even this figure is highly underestimated, given that gender-based violence goes greatly underreported everywhere.

GBV has devastating effects on the health and well-being of individuals and societies. As a source of psychological and physical trauma, it is also costly for economies, affecting the human capital of survivors, labor market participation and civic activity. Before COVID-19, it was estimated that in some countries, GBV cost up to 3.7% of GDP more than double what many governments spent on education.

GBV takes a surprising and shocking variety of forms in addition to intimate partner violence: non-partner sexual violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, trafficking, femicide, child and early marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting, sexual harassment, and cyber GBV. About 18% of girls are married before the age of 18 in MENA, especially in rural areas. In Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya and Syria, perpetrators are still exonerated if they marry the woman or girl they have raped or assaulted.

Specific marginalized groups, such as forcibly displaced persons and migrant domestic workers, are particularly vulnerable to non-partner violence. In Jordan, 28% of Syrian refugee women experience psychological abuse and 29% physical assault. In Bahrain, 30% to 40% of attempted suicides are by foreign female domestic workers subjected to verbal, physical, and/or sexual abuse. In many countries, divorced or separated women, single mothers, and women and girls living on the street face exploitation and abuse.

As a category, femicides (the killing of women) are overlooked and there are no nationally representative statistics on their prevalence. Acceptance of so-called “honor killings” is high in the region as in Egypt where 62% of men and 49% of women agree with the practice as do 32% of men and 12% of women in Morocco, and 26% and 8% in Lebanon. Sentencing for perpetrators is often lenient and merciful.

Conflict-affected and fragile contexts as well as COVID-19 exacerbate risks and limit response. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the prevalence of GBV worse, while reducing survivors’ access to services due to mobility restrictions, rising tensions in households, and shifts in social safety nets. Economic repercussions of the crisis contribute to negative coping mechanisms, including transactional sex or child marriages. In West Bank and Gaza, one in four phone survey respondents indicated that domestic violence increased during the lockdown. In Lebanon, Bahrain, Tunisia, and Iraq, GBV hotlines have experienced spikes in the numbers of reported GBV cases.

Challenges are even more acute in fragile and conflict contexts, where levels of sexual violence and forced marriage are higher still, and the services dealing with them, disrupted. In Iraq, during relatively recent periods of conflict, women, girls, men, and boys were subjected to rape and sexual enslavement, physical and psychological violence, and human trafficking. Girls and women captured by ISIS were forced into marriage, sexual slavery, and domestic servitude, and often continue to be stigmatized in their communities. In Syria, reports of the rape of women rose sharply, from 300 in 2011 to 6,000 in 2013.

The MENA region of the World Bank has decided to integrate its GBV prevention and response into a comprehensive plan of action to tackle GBV.  The Action Plan presents the prevalence, progress, and gaps in prevention and response to GBV in the 20 countries in the MENA region. The plan focuses on three pillars.

Data and knowledge

  • For example, sex-disaggregated data and analysis of child marriage is included in the Yemen Human Capital and Gender Assessment.

Policy dialogue

  • The Mashreq Gender Facility contributed to the passing of a 2020 law against sexual harassment in Lebanon.
  • The recent Egypt Development Policy Financing on Inclusive Growth for Sustainable Recovery also introduces measures to deter GBV on public transport and to support GBV survivors through a One Stop Center

Operational engagement

  • Introduce counseling on sexual and reproductive health, family planning, and GBV
  • Increase awareness of GBV risks and services.
  • Increase efforts to change social norms and behavior integrated throughout.
Source: World Bank Blog.
NO Comment , 19th December 2021

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