by Manar Ammar
When Marwa* arrived at the hospital, her left arm was dangling beside her body like a lifeless piece of cloth. After examination, the doctors told her that her upper arm was shattered in three spots, and a number of surgeries must follow. The night before, following an argument with her mom, her younger brother interfered with his fist. For over an hour he hit and beat Marwa senselessly. He even threw a chair at her.
“I don’t have full normal movement in my arm, even after three and half years since the fight,” says Marwa. “I still don’t speak to my family, with the exception of my mother, and till this day he never apologized.”
“I never wanted to see my brother in jail, but I wanted him, and others, to know that beating another person is a crime, and just because you are related to them, does not make it any less of a crime,” she adds.
According to the 2001 government conducted survey Egypt: Abused Women Reluctant to Come Forward, 96 percent of women reported their spouse had beaten them at least once. Shockingly, the majority of the women survivors believe that their husbands had “the right” to beat them if they were disobedient or disrespectful.
“We all have family members, friends or acquaintances who have been hit by a father, a brother, or if married, by a husband,” says Kamlah M. Salah, a human rights activist. “Women suffer domestic violence in Egypt. It is not a secret. What is shocking is how tolerant we are towards it.”
Impoverished less-educated women, who are forced to wed at a much younger age than their urban counterparts, are more likely to experience spousal violence. Studies found that gender-based violence is far more widespread among these women. However this is not the rule. Fourteen percent of women who passed junior high said their partner battered them.
According to a 2009 survey by the El Nadim Center for the Management and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, conducted on 1,264 women from around the country, 43 percent of women had been beaten by a relative or a spouse and 43 percent had been subjected to verbal and psychological violence and intimidation. Another survey, by the deposed National Women Council of the same year, found an even higher number. Almost 63 percent of the women survivors were battered by a spouse or a relative. What is more shocking is that the survey found four out of five men openly and shamelessly admitted to using violence toward their spouse or a close female family member.
Women rarely report incidents of violence to the police and hospitals. Obliged by the law to conduct an injury report, they often lessen and soften the gravity of the damage inflected on the woman.
Why is it that in a society that considers beating women a taboo, with men flaunting proudly that they “would never lay a finger on a woman,” it is widely accepted and regularly practiced behind closed doors? Men, who admit to using force against their wives or relatives, see it differently. They call it discipline. They see it as granted right to “correct” women’s behavior. When a woman attempts to report an incident of violence committed against her by a relative or a souse, the police treat it very lightly.
According to Magda Adly, director of al-Nadim center, “Police officers and hospitals are accomplices in downplaying incidents of violence against women.” She adds, “Doctors refuse to conduct a full report on time and police attempt to turn it into a family matter that should be resolved internally.” That is why if a woman is being hit in public and someone tries to intervene, the magic words are “she is my sister/wife,” and good Samaritans keep on walking and police turn their head the other way.
Joe, a 28-year-old journalist based in Cairo, recalls a violent encounter. “I saw a young man slapping a woman repeatedly in City Stars mall. I had to intervene and stop the beating. The woman was trying to get away, covering her head and as I approached he stopped to tell me off and said, “‘She is my sister, it is none of your business.’ The beating stopped and they left.”
In 1996, the World Health Assembly declared violence against women to be a major public health problem that urgently needed to be addressed by governments and health organizations. The Egyptian Penal Code (band number 58 of the year 1937) defines any attack on women as crimes. Yet only violence that takes place in public places is punishable by law. Indoor and private violence by a husband or a male relative is considered a family business that should be resolved inside the family home.
Hence, the El Nadim Center drafted a law to criminalize domestic violence, bringing a sliver of hope to battered and abused women. The draft that was put on their website for others to sign and support reads: “This draft law targets the mobilization of societal participation against the phenomenon of domestic violence, break its infernal cycle and save victims crushed by this cycle.”
The draft continues, “Tolerating, justifying, and condoning domestic violence has not stopped at the level of legal denial of incriminating the act, but was also coupled with the standpoint of state institutions and an unsympathetic, indifferent and unsupportive – if not hostile – society toward women victims of violence. Police stations often take a biased attitude against women if they ever attempt to file a complaint regarding the incident of violence. Doctors in hospitals commonly tend to mitigate the effects resulting from violence because – by virtue of their culture and pre-bias- they do not wish to take any measure that would destroy the household.”
Adly explains that the law was in the lower house of parliament in 2010 and was accepted and almost passed when the uprising and mass protests against the regime broke out. The parliament was dissolved and the draft was void.
Although the Egyptian revolution has delivered great hope to many who lacked it, most notably women, very little has changed in their favor. The way that society looks upon women as a second degree individual has not changed - families still favor boys over girls, mothers prefer bringing up a boy over a girl, and girls get roughed up more often. In fact, in post-Mubarak Egypt, women have already lost many granted rights and it seems that we are going back to the starting line.
So, the El Nadim Center is starting all over again. New aspects, like marital rape, that are expected to raise a few eyebrows, have been introduced. The law states a penalty of three to seven years with hard labor for rape of a person, male or female. But marital rape has not even been heard of in Egyptian society.
“No woman will dare go to a police station and report that her husband raped her,” explains Salah. “This is a very sensitive issue as men, and most women, believe that husbands have the right to access their wives bodies at all times, hence the term rape is rejected.”
For Sally al-Hak, media director of the independent Egyptian Women Union, “As a woman, it breaks my heart when I see females get oppressed and beaten and the worse that they don't even know their rights.”
She adds that as a feminist, “I believe that we can do something to stop these crimes through raising awareness on how violence influences the females' psychology and activity, and also, what the state looses…Violence toward women in Egypt cost the state 147 billion in the last 50 years.”
For Marwa, she hopes that she will never have to face a similar situation again, and even though her family ties are partially broken, she says she has formed her own family with loving, protecting friends. “I have to relive the beating every time I try to move my arm, but I have forgiven him. I only wish he understands the ramifications of his action.”
*real name has been changed
About the Author:
Manar Ammar is an Egyptian journalist who was born and raised in Cairo. Her work has appeared in the Daily News Egypt, All Headline News (AHN), Al Helwa Weekly, Women News Network (WNN) and Bikya Masr. Manar's writing and reporting focuses on politics and women's issues in the MENA region.