Written by: Dr. Talal Abu Rkaba

Violence based on gender is seen as one of the most controversial issues that have come to haunt the Palestinian society. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics data on violence indicate a significant increase in the rates of violence within the Palestinian society.

Gender-based violence (GBV) constitutes a great danger to society in general and to the civil peace system in it. This is due to the negative effects it leaves on all social, economic and psychological levels. There are also a number of factors that clearly affect the increase or decrease of its level within the Palestinian society. In particular, the continuation of the Israeli occupation policies in the Occupied Territories and the inability of the Palestinian Authority to extend its sovereignty over all Palestinian lands further affect the existing violence. The fragility of the rule of law in many locations, the growing role of tribal and traditional leaders, hand in hand with the difficult economic conditions with high rates of poverty and unemployment, especially among the youth, and the Palestinian political division also play a major role. The Legislative Council’s sickness and the lack of ability to legislate responsive laws and legislation also contributed to the fragility in the protection of women. Moreover, the contradiction that is existing in the legal and structural framework between Gaza and the West Bank and between the new laws and the traditional inherited ones are contributing in creating an atmosphere allowing GBV.

These causes, of varying degrees, have contributed to the increase in the phenomenon of GBV, especially in light of the continued absence of legal and social protection that are required for victims of this violence.

It should be noted that GBV is a comprehensive term for every harmful act that is committed against the will of a person because of his or her gender. GBV is directed towards a person because of his or her gender. Women and girls are usually the most vulnerable to GBV because of the nature of collective assumptions about their roles that create an asymmetry of power on their gender role. Although women have the largest share of violence practiced in society, violence can extend to other groups based on the social roles they practice in Palestinian society. The roles are governed by a complex and multiple set of societal interactions based on societal norms. Exclusionary masculine mentality prevails and dominates which elevates men and degrades the value of women. The importance of women’s role and presence in life is reduced. They are excluded from reaching decision-making positions, including the first circle related to making personal decisions for women themselves. This culture does not see women as capable or qualified to make a decision, no matter how high or low the role is.

This reality prompts the need to devise mechanisms capable of protecting society from slipping into the furnace of violence that has unbearable consequences. There is a need to search for mechanisms with effective prevention. International experiences indicate to us that early warning mechanisms are one of the mechanisms that are resorted to in order to prevent the spread and persistence of the violence phenomenon. In societies, resorting to early warning mechanisms is usually done  to bridge the gaps of people’s engagement in the community to enhance safety and security and bridge the jurisdictional and violence prevention, as is the case in the Palestinian Territories. Additional uses are in cases of the emergence or growth of a clear pattern of discrimination on the basis of gender, as evidenced by social and economic indicators in the Palestinian case. The main objective of this mechanism is to prevent the phenomenon of violence from worsening even further. This includes measures to build confidence in order to identify and support everything that would enhance civil peace and tolerance within society, especially preventing all forms and manifestations of GBV, wherever they may be found. Therefore, it is important to form community acceptance and a strong public opinion to reject violence and adopt dialogue to solve crises and problems within society.

The urgent actions provided by the warning mechanism are aimed at early responses to problems that require immediate remedy in order to prevent massive violations. This also reduces the scope and number of violence, which may include criteria for initiating urgent action. Actions also require a true understanding of the nature, causes and effects of violence. This is done in order to build a response capable of reducing it.

The Palestinian Association for Empowerment and Local Development - REFORM, recently introduced its early warning system. This mechanism focuses on reducing the risks of violence against women and the sources of discrimination on the basis of gender, exclusion or marginalisation. This is based on a process of careful monitoring of cultural and structural variables and crime in all its forms. In society, this system is a tool to support the security forces in addressing the structural imbalances in society. This is especially applicable in areas that the security forces cannot reach, as is the case in areas classified (C) in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The early warning system provides quantitative and qualitative readings of cases of violence. In turn, the data helps all relevant authorities to build policies, programmes and interventions that are capable of responding to the citizens’ security and safety. It also helps in reducing the financial cost and the efforts exerted in the law enforcement process.

The success of the REFORM early warning system and its activation in confronting violence, or reducing it at the very least, requires true partnerships between all relevant official and civil institutions. Concerted efforts are needed to make the system a success. This is done by exchanging the roles needed by this system and benefiting from the capabilities of all institutions to make it a success. The process of accurate monitoring of violent violations and their documentation reduces the dangers lurking in societal harmony. The first step is having an electronic platform that paves the way for early warning and response to confront violence by monitoring its indicators. Alternatively, the system helps institutions working in the field of responding to issues of GBV to improve their capabilities in designing and building interventions capable of serving and protecting those who are subjected to violence.

The early warning system provided by REFORM constitutes a qualitative leap in the steps taken to confront GBV. By designing evidence-based interventions and a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the scale, forms and direct structural causes facing society, measures and interventions can be developed. This will make it possible to prevent the emergence or escalation of violence.

The early warning system can also be used to detect early signs of violence. It is a qualitative leap that helps all institutions take the necessary measures to reduce violence and protect victims. This includes providing psychological and social support to victims and promoting awareness and education on gender issues.

This system would also draw the attention of decision-makers and policy-makers as a supportive tool and not a substitute for the work of official bodies. They will be able to recognise the most important indicators and measures that can contribute to protecting and strengthening the civil peace system in general. The early warning system is not limited to the phenomenon of GBV. It can also be extended to include monitoring indicators of crime in the Palestinian society. This provides multiple sub-indicators in various fields such as human rights violations, occupation practices, corruption and many others that enable the policy-maker to take the right decisions to correct the course.

Any real treatment of the reasons for the growth and escalation of GBV requires, in the first place, to address the challenges perpetuated by the cultural heritage. This is relatively lenient with many types of violence against women, such as GBV, domestic violence, the phenomenon of honour killing of women and other related patterns. This requires the beginning of innovative and new mechanisms such as the early warning system, with the accompanying processes of education and community awareness on the importance of having this tool when dealing with these phenomena. It is based on a comprehensive structural methodology that relies on approaches and indicators that highlight the real reasons behind the continuation and growth of violence in Palestinian society. The system also provides practical visions for an effective response to reduce future cases.

All that the system currently requires is a true Palestinian structural will to confront GBV by building a network of alliances between all relevant official and civil institutions. This is important in order to protect our people from slipping into the cycle of violence. By addressing the existing gap, it will also help them strengthen their internal immunity. By presenting the warning and responding to it effectively, a cooperative relationship with the decision-maker will form. The realisation of the seriousness and gravity of the current situation will show an allocation of appropriate tools and human resources required for the response, for is there a responder...!

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's views and not necessarily the Association's or donor's opinion.