Palestine: talking about sex to help sexual violence victims

Woman in Palestine. Credits: IPPF/Graeme Robertson

In Palestine sexual violence against women, especially within the family, is common. Women's virginity is linked to the honour of their family, and will face threats of death for dishonouring their family.

Mariam needed help to get out of a coerced “relationship”, fearing for her life if her relatives find out.

“In the beginning my nephew wanted to kiss me. “I resisted. But then he started touching my body. It became a relationship between lovers. To “preserve” virginity, it was always anal sex. 
“I knew it was wrong. But who I should talk to? If my brother found out he would have beaten me - killed me.” 

At the Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association (PFPPA)'s clinics, social workers give awareness sessions on sexual violence in the waiting rooms, hoping to catch the attention of women there for other reasons who are hiding the fact they have been abused. It was this kind of session that proved vital for Mariam.

“When my sister was pregnant I went with her to the PFPPA clinic,” she remembers. “The social worker there, Ruba, started speaking about sexual violence. When my sister went in with the doctor, I went to Ruba's office and told her I needed help; I cried.” Mariam kept visiting Ruba, and ended things with her nephew.

“What happened to me is not rare. It would have been impossible for me to approach a relative and tell them what was going on; I was too frightened. And nobody would have believed me over a man.
“I've found there are other women of my age who've had similar experiences to me but women are frightened to speak about it. 
“Before, I despised myself. Now I feel powerful. I leave the house, I meet people. I feel I'm responsible for myself, that I have to protect myself, and that I need to help others if they need me. Everyone's telling me 'you've changed, you're stronger'.”

Through its association with religious and community leaders, the PFPPA seeks to persuade the public of the importance of talking openly about sexual health and relationships, and dispel the idea that sexuality education for young people goes against the teachings of Islam.