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Middle East, North Africa in a spot over family GBV



A section of rights organisations have raised concerns over failure by family laws in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) to protect women and girls.

Millions of women and girls across the region have no security and safety that a family can bring. This has been blamed on discriminatory family laws.

The absence of a unified secular family code in most Mena countries deepens the discrimination against women. Domestic violence in the region is the second-highest worldwide, with 34.5 per cent of its married women having experienced intimate partner violence.

These numbers record the highest in Egypt, where it is estimated that 86 per cent of married women face spousal abuse and almost half of young women have faced physical violence from their brothers and fathers.

Legal loopholes

Loopholes in laws and patchy implementation result in 700,000 child brides in Mena every year.

One in five girls is married before the age of 18 and one in every 25 is married before the age of 15. The prevalence of child marriage varies from country to country depending on social norms and economic situations. The highest percentage is in Yemen (32 per cent), followed by Iraq 24 and Egypt 17 per cent.

Child marriage has increased significantly among Syrian refugees, reaching almost 50 per cent in Turkey, Lebanon (40 per cent) and Jordan at 32 per cent.

Equality Now, an organisation fighting for a just world for women and girls since 1992, in a statement, said lack of laws and proper implementation has put millions of child brides at risk of pregnancy and childbirth complications, which is considered the number one killer of girls aged between 15 and 19.

“When married as children, girls are more subject to physical and sexual violence. They are deprived of their right to education, health, safety, and participation in decision-making,” Equality Now says.

Remedial measures

To reverse the situation, Equality Now is building a feminist movement of young women, women’s rights organisations, activists, legal experts, and decision-makers to tackle gaps in family laws and support women and girls to enjoy their rights.

Through partnerships with national experts, the organisation is also providing specialised support such as progressive revisions of Sharia laws that present evidence of the potential gender-just reforms in family laws.

Advocacy campaigns are contextualised through work with national partners by considering social, religious, and political specificity of each country.

Under the Young Women for Awareness, Agency, Accountability and Advocacy partnership, Equality Now supports national partners in Egypt, Palestine, Kenya, and South Sudan to lobby for reform and proper implementation of domestic violence bills.

In Palestine, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), as a member of the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organisations against Domestic Violence against Women Network, continues to lobby the government to improve the existing domestic violence draft bill.

YWCA Palestine has started its advocacy work to raise awareness of the risk of child marriage and to lobby the government to cancel the exception clause in the 2019 Personal Status Law to save the lives and future of young girls.

The Ibrahimia Media Centre is also leading an evidence-based advocacy campaign to improve the existing draft law on domestic violence in Egypt and will lobby parliamentarians to adopt it.

Equality Now further supports both partners with advocacy training and close follow-up on their planning and implementation.

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