The Palestinian Authority must take a tougher stance against gender-based violence and to promote equality for women, United Nations Human Rights Council investigator Dubravka Simonovic said in a special report on the matter issued last week.
“The occupation does not exonerate the State of Palestine from its due diligence obligation to prevent, investigate, punish and provide remedies for acts of gender-based violence under the areas and persons under its jurisdiction,” Simonovic wrote.
The visit by the special rapporteur on violence against women was the first in 11 years to Israel and the Palestinian territories by someone holding that post.
She wrapped up her 10-day trip on Thursday with a press conference at the American Colony hotel in Jerusalem.
Typically, Israel bans such visit by rapporteurs from the UNHRC, on the argument that the mandate is often biased and focuses solely on Israeli human rights abuses against Palestinians.
Simonovic, in her report, tackled issues faced by both Israeli and Palestinian women face in their own societies, as well the harm caused to Palestinian women by Israel’s military rule of the West Bank.
“My visit takes place after a long absence of any other UN special rapporteur visits and I hope that this translates the willingness of both governments to strengthen their efforts to eliminate violence against women,” Simonovic said.
The Palestinian legal system is “outdated” when it comes violence against women, particularly with regard to issues of “honor crimes,” she said. Judges still have “broad discretionary powers” when it comes to the application of mitigating factors in honor crimes, Simonovic said.
Palestinian girls can be married at age 15, which is too young, she said, “Child marriage is a harmful practice that can place girls in vulnerable positions and exacerbated risk of suffering violence and early pregnancies,” Simonovic said. In addition, she added, marital rape is not criminalized.
“Women face also discrimination in the areas of inheritance, divorce and custody of the children, which can place them in vulnerable positions,” Simonovic said.
With respect to Israel, she expressed concern over the use of religious laws to regulate marriage and divorce, particularly with the Judaism’s legal tool of a “get” (Jewish divorce document) through which a husband consent is necessary for divorce.
“I have been made aware of the ‘get abuse’, which is a form of violence exerted by husbands against their wives during divorce proceedings,” Simonovic said. The Rabbinical courts do not do enough to ensure that women can receive a divorce, she said.
There should be a civil option for marriage and divorce, Simonovic said.
She was also concerned by the violence that asylum seekers, Israeli-Arab and Beduin women face.
“Polygamy and under-age marriage of girls are legitimized under different religious laws governing personal status and to some extent, both harmful practices are still in use in some pockets of the Arab and Bedouin communities,” Simonovic said.
Not enough is done to combat honor crimes in Arab and Beduin communities, she said.
Simonovic said she was also concerned by Israel’s failure to offer refugee protection to women asylum seekers who had fled their countries because of gender-based violence.
With respect to Israeli actions against Palestinian women, she spoke of more global issues such as violence, housing demolitions and lack of freedom of movement and access.
Simonovic ended by calling on both sides to start a new peace process in which women would fully participate.