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Sumood

Rasha Kaloti

By Rasha Kaloti

From darkness to light:
A story of a Gender-Based Violence (GBV) survivor from Palestine

Gender-Based Violence survivor working on embroidery as part of a UNFPA supported project. Source: UNFPA Palestine

According to the United Nations, Gender-based Violence (GBV) is any violent act that is directed at a person based on their gender.1 GBV is a health and protection issue and a human rights violation.1 It affects about one in three women worldwide, and certainly more so in poor countries and conflict and fragile settings. According to a 2019 survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in 2019, nearly one in three women in Palestine reported violence in the form of psychological, physical, sexual, social, or economic abuse by their husbands at least once during the preceding 12 months.2

 

This article is based on an interview conducted with Farah (name changed for privacy and protection purposes) as part of my consultancy with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2020.

The Story of Farah

Farah, a 30-year old woman from a town near Nablus city in the West Bank, Palestine. She recalls her difficult childhood, and how she was never able to pursue her ambitions to continue her high-school diploma. She suffered years of verbal, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her father.

 

When Farah was 20 years old, she was forced by her family into marriage to a man she did not know. “I could not tolerate the marriage. He had psychological issues and was abusing me. Three years later, I got a divorce and went back to my parents’ house, where I faced an even worse abuse from my father.”

 

She was again forced into marriage at the age of 24 to a man in his sixties, and left him a month later because he was beating her the whole time. A year later, Farah met a 34-year old man. She thought he was kind, at first, but soon after he asked her for money and then left her. He threatened to kill her if she reported him, and her family refused to help her.

Rasha blog 3
Image by Nadine Shaabana from Unsplash

“These were the worst days of my life. I was helpless. I had no hope and considered committing suicide.”

Farah was then referred to the Family Defence Society women’s shelter. This shelter is one of two shelters only in Palestine. It provides comprehensive services for women facing high-risk GBV. These services include legal, health and psychological services, and economic empowerment. UNFPA in Palestine also funds training such as on ceramic-making and embroidery, in order to support financial independence for female survivors of GBV.

In Her Own Words

I was supported from day one at the shelter. I felt safe and never felt like I wanted to leave throughout the three years that I have been here. The social workers helped me to write a self-reflective diary, and provided me with individual and group counselling sessions.

The director at the shelter saw that I am ambitious about education, and told me she can help me to do the high school diploma exams. At the shelter, they bought me all the books and the stationary that I needed, and supported tutoring lessons for me during the last months before the exams.

The day I received my result was the best day of my life. My dream came true and they did a party for me at the shelter. With the support of the shelter workers, I completed my bachelor’s degree in social work and I am planning to pursue both masters and PhD degrees.

I was then offered a job as a social worker at the shelter. I enjoy supporting other GBV survivors. I was in their place at one time. I listen to the women and support them. I am very grateful for this opportunity. This work helps me develop on a personal level and gives me the strength to keep going.

I belong to this shelter and will always belong here. I am proud to be working here. It is truly a safe home. The women here became my real family.​

My relationship with my family has changed. I visit my family weekly. They respect me more, and I make my own decisions without their interference. I felt like a victim before, but I became a new person, stronger and more resilient.

I tell other women facing GBV: do not be afraid to seek help when you need it. Do not stay silent and never give up. Life does not stop and oppression does not last.

Reflections

Farah’s story is one example of the many successful stories of women surviving GBV. Albeit on the other side, we still hear of heartbreaking stories of GBV victims around the world. 

 

This story is an example of hope and determination. It emphasises the need of an effective protection system at a policy level. Shelters are only one part of these protection mechanisms. UNFPA in Palestine supports a national referral system whereby each GBV case is directed to the needed organisation and services. These include: legal, psychosocial, health, and sheltering services. 

 

Farah’s story is inspiring and shows that through the right services and support, a life can be saved, and dreams can be pursued. 

 

Legal and social reforms are required in Palestine and worldwide to ensure that GBV is prevented in the first place, such as by combatting lack of enforcement of the laws which punish and/or deter perpetrators.  

References

  1. PCBS. Preliminary Results of the Violence Survey in the Palestinian Society. 2019. https://www.pcbs.gov.ps/Downloads/book2480.pdf. Accessed 22 November 2021.

  2. UNHCR. Gender-based Violence. https://www.unhcr.org/gender-based-violence.html#:~:text=Gender%2DBased%20violence%20refers%20to,threatening%20health%20and%20protection%20issue. Accessed 22 November 2021.

 

  1. UNFPA. Minimum Standards – for Prevention and Response to Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies. 2017. http://mpbi.info/download/GBVIE.Minimum.Standards.Publication.FINAL_.ENG.pdf Accessed 24 November 2021.

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