Domestic violence

Like sexual harassment, domestic violence is increasingly coming to light across the Arab region, reflected in popular debate and academic research. For an overview of the available data, see “Gender-based Violence in the Middle East: A Review” in Violence Against Women and Mental Health, by Josyan Madi Skaff et al. and “What we know about intimate partner violence in the Middle East and North Africa” in Violence Against Women by Angie Boy and Andrezej Kulczycki and Gender and Violence in the Middle East by Moha Ennaji and Fatima Sadiqi.

In Egypt, according to a recent national survey of married women to ask about experience of domestic violence, around a third of the 6,500 women surveyed had suffered spousal violence at some point in their marriage; just under 20% of women reported being beaten by their husbands in the past year and around 4% reported sexual violence. A smaller study of just over 900 married women in Lower Egypt fetching up for medical attention found 11% reporting an episode of forced sex with their husband. Another study of 1,000 women attending health clinics in Cairo found 60% of them had experienced abuse from their husbands, mainly slapping, with a quarter reporting psychological abuse, such as insults and humiliation; around 7% reported forced sex. In yet another study of almost 600 women at hospitals Cairo, almost 90% had experiences some violence at the hands of their husbands, and 17% reported forced sex. (Bakr & Ismail, 2005) In a 2009 survey of 3,000 married women in Alexandria attending public health clinics, almost three-quarters were emotionally abused by their husbands, half had experience of physical abuse and more than a third were victims of spousal sexual assault.

In an interesting example of he said-she said, a survey of more than 2,000 married men and women across Egypt found that while nearly two-thirds of women reported being psychologically abused by their husbands, almost 80% of men said they had done so at some point to their wives. While equal proportions of men and women reported inflicting/receiving physical abuse, they were wide apart on sexual violence, with nearly one in five women reporting sexual abuse by their husbands, while less 1% of men saying they had doled this out to their wives.

Attitudes towards gender-based violence can die hard. In the 2009 national survey of Egyptian youth, less than a fifth of women aged 15-29 thought wives deserved a beating in the case of neglecting the children or arguing with her husband; men took a harder line, with more than a third thinking this was justification enough for a little discipline. Around a third of men and women thought wife beating was justified in the case of her withholding sex, and more than two-thirds if she was found “talking to other men” (code for extramarital affairs), where more than three-quarters of men and two-thirds of women thought a husband was within his rights to knock his wife about.

Elsewhere in the region, intimate partner violence is also a problem. In Morocco, a recent survey of more than 8,000 women across the country found that more than half of married women had experienced some form of abuse from their husbands in the past year, including 7% reporting sexual violence. Only 3% of these women reported this incident to authorities, with less than 1% of cases ending in arrest and conviction—this in a country with a revised family law code which accords more rights to women than many of its Arab neighbors.

In Tunisia, a 2011 survey of almost 4,000 women from across the country aged 18-64 found that nearly a third had experienced some form of violence in the past year, including almost a quarter of the most educated cohort. Almost half of these women had suffered psychological abuse, with just under a quarter reporting either physical or sexual violence. “Intimate partners”—husbands or boyfriends—were the main perpetrators of psychological or sexual abuse, but other family members were the main culprits in physical violence. Women with any experience of marriage—wives, divorcées or widows—were more likely to be victims of abuse than their single peers. More than half the women said the violence had affected their daily lives, forcing around two-fifths to leave the marital home.

Jordan is home to one of the most extensive bodies of research on gender-based violence in the Arab region (more a measure of research funders’ interests than a reflection of higher levels of domestic violence than elsewhere in the region). Among the many studies conducted is a 2007 national survey which found one in five married women reporting physical abuse by their husbands, a similar fraction on the receiving end of emotional abuse and just under 10% suffering sexual abuse by their husbands. For all the public debate round honour killings and violence against women in Jordan, research shows that the desire to keep such issues quiet, and in the family, runs as deeps as deep there as in many other places in the region.

Palestine rivals Jordan in the sheer number of studies on domestic violence. In a 2005 national survey of more than 3,800 women in the Palestinian Territories, more than three-fifths experienced psychological violence, around a quarter physical violence and just over 10% sexual violence from their husbands in the preceding year. Smaller studies have revealed even higher levels of abuse among married women.