On 25 November 2013, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) launched the 16 Days Campaign to Combat Violence against Women. The theme for 2013 was ‘Time for Change: Men Say No to Violence Against Women’.
In Gaza, the campaign reached 2,150 people through activities including sessions with key figures and community leaders on gender-based violence (GBV); open days in community-based organizations including theatre, performances and sessions on conflict resolution; and meetings for youth to engage them in community work to battle GBV.
Twenty-year-old Sami al-Nahhal (20), a participant from Rafah, said this was the first time he had learned about violence against women (VAW) in Gaza. “I think we need to conduct lots of campaigns and advocacy where youth all together can say ‘no’ to VAW and start working hard to protect the victims in Gaza,” he said. Abdallah Mousa, 55, another participant from Gaza, said that many women had approached him asking for help, but he had always been ashamed to ask for training on how to deal with such situations. Now, he said, “I want to know more about the organizations supporting victims.”
A handprint campaign gathered 7,000 handprints – pink from men and blue from women – from UNRWA staff and beneficiaries in CBOs, increasing awareness of the campaign and allowing everyone to get involved. The huge, colorful canvasses covered with handprints are now hanging on the walls of the UNRWA field pffice walls and the Khan Younis Training Centre to provide visibility and show support to the campaign.
On 8 December, UNRWA organized a panel discussion on the role of men in tackling violence against women. The workshop was attended by 300 people, mostly men, as well as key persons from the local communities. Two working papers were discussed in the panel: The first raised gender issues present in Palestinian law, such as early marriage, child custody and heritage rights, while the second concentrated on the portrayal of women in the Palestinian media, which reinforces the traditional image and tasks of women.
The Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Robert Turner, spoke with participants about the responsibility men have in fighting violence against women and the consequences it has not only on women, but also on sons and daughters across generations. Violence against women fractures families and communities, he reminded the audience, posing a threat to social and economic development.
The final conference – ‘Towards a Coordinated Response to Violence against Women in Palestine’ – was organized on 22 December as a joint effort of Amal Coalition, General Union of Palestinian Women, UN-Women, UNRWA and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The event aimed to bring together civil society and international organizations to work towards a better understanding of violence against women as a public issue and a violation of human rights that demands a concrete and urgent response.