International human rights conventions and declarations state that "the rights of women and female children are an inalienable and integral part of universal human rights". In addition, they confirm that violence against women both violates and impairs women’s enjoyment of human rights and their fundamental freedoms, and that all forms of gender-based violence are incompatible with human dignity and worth. These covenants uphold fundamental principles related to the universality of human rights, their indivisibility and interdependence, which preclude their being selectively implemented. There should be no attempt to diminish these rights on the basis of what are termed “cultural sensitivities”, including using socio-cultural heritage as a justification for retracting or withholding such rights or justifying their violation.
Gender-based violence is one of the worst forms of violation of women’s fundamental rights, because it involves infringing on their dignity, the most sacred attribute of human beings. Violence against women means “any act of gender-based violence, which results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women ... whether occurring in public or private life.” Violence includes acts of physical, sexual and psychological violence that occurs in the family, from beatings, female genital mutilation and wife-beating, to abuses that culminate in the killing of women under different guises.
Violence against women is not an individual affair, and does not pertain to women only. Therefore, dealing with this issue should not be considered the responsibility of women alone but a general community responsibility, using public discussion to promote the right to individual happiness as well as the right to security and safety. While we must not overlook the fundamental role of society, we have to emphasize the state’s responsibility to protect all its citizens from crime, including the crime of violence in all its forms, regardless of the identity of the perpetrators. When the state fails to take the necessary measures to provide such protection or work to prevent crime(through prevention and awareness before the crime is committed, and punishment and deterrence after its occurrence), the state must bear a heavy share of the responsibility. By avoiding involvement, the state contributes to the promotion of crime and provides a conducive atmosphere for it to proliferate. In our case, we do not expect the Government of Israel to act otherwise.
The killing of women is a societal responsibility. Most of the violence against women in all its forms (including murder) flourishes in the fertile soil of social and cultural norms – governing men and women’s behavior – that justify “habits, traditions and customs and all other practices that are based on the idea of the inferiority or superiority of either of the sexes, or on stereotyped roles for men and women”. The extent to which local customs and cultures conform to the principles of human rights and universal human values becomes of paramount importance, as they directly impact on the roles of men and women, the nature of social relations within the community, and the possibilities of access to and participation in control over resources. Men and women must enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms on the basis of justice and equality.
Violence against women is a manifestation of the unequal power relations between men and women and builds on concepts, traditions and values that perpetuate the inferior status of women in the family, workplace, community and society as a whole.
Although violence against women is closely linked to an increase in other manifestations of violence in our society in recent years, it has its own characteristics in terms of origin and methods of treatment. Success is not possible without the clear and committed participation of the community based on critiquing a cultural heritage that permits violence. It requires much greater openness between individuals, between the family and the community at large, and between leaders and their constituents. Such transparency is the cornerstone for any significant change. If we are to have a major impact, all political, social and cultural institutions must be actively involved.
Fundamental social change must be based on civilized human values and principles that challenge the claims of women’s inferiority, discrimination against them and stereotypes that encourage their abuse and justify their killing. Undoubtedly, such profound change cannot be implemented in a short period of time, and there are many obstacles that need to be overcome in the form of "sensitivities, culture and traditions". The issue of violence has to be addressed outside the sphere of the feminist and women's movements, including in political parties, and cultural, religious and social institutions, so that it becomes integrated into the mainstream collective struggle for a better society. (Note that many of these institutions are comfortable not to address this issue and prefer to keep their gaze averted). The need to eliminate the killing of women and violence against them can only become a priority for the community if it involves all segments of the society in formulating an action plan to address violence and in developing an alternative culture based on the humanity of women and men, fairness and freedom.
In this context, we call for a true concept of “honor”, as a social value that extends beyond sex and artificial chastity, to the concepts of truthfulness, honesty and productive work, participation in community affairs and active contribution to the process of progress and development. This is the concept promoted by the culture we desire: a culture of equality, not of discrimination; a culture of the future, not of ossification; a culture that involves the whole of society, not one that is exclusive; a culture of tolerance and pluralism, not of unilateral thinking and decision-making; a culture of freedom, not of repression and restriction. This is a new culture that replaces the dominant culture, which has legitimised a view of the woman as a chattel and allowed her brother to kill her or abuse her freedoms and basic human rights. Such a culture is replaced with one based on justice and consciousness, which encourages the development of and qualitative change in behavior and relationships between the community’s various members, and especially between women and men.
In conclusion, implementing this change in social behaviors also requires mobilization of the absent intellectual, who needs to take a leading role in rejecting constraints on thought and the observance of "implied" taboos. Instead, he or she must challenge the community’s tacit principles, present the issues in all their complexity and deepen the debate, in order to present alternatives based on a strategic plan, not on immediate reactions. In this way we can effectively mobilise the community and create a movement and environment that rejects violence and the killing of women and men, and relies on humanitarian values for the challenges ahead.
* for more information: http://mzeidan.blogspot.com/