Effects of Domestic Violence on Nabulsi Women and Children
Last week, as part of TYO’s Women’s Group seminars, I had a conversation with mothers about domestic violence and its effect on children and families. Our conversation revealed the prevalence of domestic abuse in the communities we serve and the tangible effects of these actions on the children who come to TYO. Women voiced how the abuse directly impacted their mental and physical health, through higher blood pressure, higher heart hates, lack of concentration, and abundant crying. One woman said, “It makes it difficult to do my job at home.” The women also voiced how as victims of abuse themselves, they abused their own children unconsciously. They spoke about taking out their anger and frustration on their children. In this way, their children experience multiple layers of victimization. Not only do the children witness the abuse firsthand, but they also become victims of it themselves.
The conversation surrounding the prevalence of domestic abuse in Palestine is very recent. The lack of laws prohibiting domestic violence and underreporting contribute to the lack of data available. Two of the first surveys to report its existence in Palestine were completed in 2001. These surveys of 1,334 Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip showed that during the year prior to the surveys 37% of the women had been victims of physical abuse, and 30% had been victims of some form of sexual abuse at least once during the survey period. Another study by the Gaza Mental Health Program revealed that a quarter of their female clients reported some form of physical abuse from their blood relatives and/or husbands. As Afana, Qouta, and Sarraj say, "As men lose faith and confidence in the face of their traumatic experiences, women often bear the brunt of the physical abuse."
Despite the prevalence of abuse against women in Palestine, it is only beginning to be addressed. Cultural constraints tend to keep these problems within the family and battered women in Palestinian society fear being socially isolated if they seek outside help. The perception that abuse against the wife and family violence are personal and family issues strongly impacts the decision of the wife and the family to keep the problem to themselves.
Like other areas of the Middle East, family is the core social structure in Palestinian society. It is the foundation for most relationships. Society values interdependence within the family, family cohesion, family bonding, harmony within the family, collectivism and personal sacrifice for the benefit of the family. Palestinians are dependent on family connections for security and assistance during times of need, as well as for status within the community. The commitment to give assistance and support to family members is based on the beliefs that most family problems are internal matters and that those outside the family should not be involved. This is especially true when the family encounters situations that may cause shame, or harm its reputation and honor.
Moreover, when a Palestinian woman marries, it is typical for her to become a part of the husband's extended family; the husband's family then plays a major role in all aspects of the couple's decision-making and every-day life. In a majority of families, the husband is considered the head of the family. The difference in status between the husband and the wife reflects the patriarchal and hierarchical structure of the family and society. Even though there have been changes over the past several decades that have empowered women to work outside of the home, men still maintain the power and control in the family. The stereotyped division of gender roles continues to pervade Palestinian society. Men expect their wives, children and even sisters to respect them, to obey them and to comply with their wishes.
Domestic abuse negatively affects both the wife herself and the entire family. As the direct victim of physical abuse, the wife often suffers from severe mental health consequences, including depression, anxiety, and suicide. As a woman and a Palestinian, I believe that domestic violence is both a human rights and community problem and that it must be addressed in a comprehensive way. Having researched and studied in the U.S., it infuriates me that our conversation about domestic violence is far behind the one there. Only recently have people begun to talk about this issue at all, yet few have spoken up to say that this abuse is wrong. We need to start empowering women; creating intervention and counseling programs to help victims of abuse; and establishing advocacy campaigns to implement laws protecting survivors of domestic violence. All this must be done, not only for the sake of the women themselves, but for their children who will make up the next generation.
Suhad Jabi is the Psychosocial Program Manager at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization in Nablus.
 Haj-Yahia, M.M. (2002). The impact of wife abuse on marital relations as revealed by the second Palestinian national survey on violence against women. Journal of Family Psychology, 16,273-285.
 Afana, A.H., Qouta, S., & El Sarraj, E. (2002). Mental health needs in Palestine. Journal of Public Health Medicine, 4, 27-30.
 Nacef, F., Belhadj, A., Bouasker, A., & Ghachem, R. (2003). Violence against women in Arab and Islamic countries. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 6, 165-171.
 Haj-Yahia, M. M. 2002.
 Al-Krenawi, A.,Graham, J.R., & Sehwail, M.A. (2004). Mental health and violence/ trauma in Palestine: Implication for helping professional Practice. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 35, 185-209.
Al-Krenamwi, A., Graham, J.R.; Sehwail, M.A. 2004.
Haj-Yahia, M.M. 2002.
 Nacef, Belhadja, Bouasker and Ghachem, 2003.