For decades, violence has shaped the lives of Palestinians who have endured military conflict and occupation. Whilst political violence is talked about in public and in the media, domestic violence is an issue that often remains behind closed doors.
Social stigma associated with domestic violence and sexual violence means many women and their children remain quiet about their suffering. In conservative Palestinian society, blame is often still placed on the victim. Women are rarely able to support themselves economically leaving them with little chance of escaping their situation.
A study by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics stated that 23 per cent of Palestinian women had been exposed to physical violence. It said that 51 per cent of mothers said their children had been exposed to violence at least once, mostly from members of the household.
Sawa Organisation was established in 1998 as a support network for victims of domestic and sexual violence. The organisation has set up a national free helpline staffed by volunteers trained to offer support and counselling to victims of violence in the Palestinian Territories. The phone lines operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Sawa also runs a centre that provides legal and health advice, as well as programmes aimed at raising awareness and conducting workshops to help prevent violence at home. Sawa’s helpline receives 2,000 phone calls every month. The fact that 70 per cent of calls come through word of mouth is proof of the trusted status of the organisation within the community.
Its training programme targets staff from various institutions that deal with victims of violence. Sawa has begun to lift the veil over the taboo of domestic and sexual violence in Palestinian society and its programmes have reached 29,618 people in 2014 alone.
Photos: Kayané Antreassian/Stars Foundation