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Violence against women is harming Arab economies, says UN

Arab states have slowly started introduce legal protections for women after decades of activism [AFP]

Date of publication: 5 October, 2017

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In a bid to promote policy reform in Arab states, the United Nations is highlighting the huge economic cost of gender-based violence.

The United Nations has called upon Arab states to analyse the economic damage caused by violence against women, as part of a drive to promote policy change in a region where gender-based violence remains a taboo.

The UN's agency on women said that only a few states in the region have laws designed to tackle issues like marital rape, honour killings and incest.

"Many countries in the Arab region still see violence against women and deal with it as a private issue and not a public issue," said Mehrinaz Elawady of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

"Costing (the) violence would help the government and the state understand that ... it is not only affecting the abused woman, it is also affecting the entire economy," the director of ESCWA's Centre for Women was quoted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation as saying.

Using a model recommended by the UN, Egypt found that gender-based violence is costing the country's ailing economy around 2.17 billion Egyptian pounds ($123 million) a year.

Decades of activism by local women's rights groups have started to result in policy reforms, however the pace of change remains slow.

In Tunisia, which has the highest female parliamentary representation of any Arab state, a landmark law was passed in July that recognised domestic violence as a punishable crime.

The reforms passed also ended a controversial law that allowed male rapists to escape punishment by marrying victims.

Lebanon joined Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Jordan in August by also scrapping a similar legal provision for rapists.

"There is change that is happening," said Mohammad Naciri, UN Women's regional director for Arab States.

"But we are just at the beginning."

According to the World Health Organization, 37 percent of women in Eastern Mediterranean countries, many of which are Arab-majority, have been physically or sexually abused by a partner.

For the Arab world as a whole, there is no available data on the scale and frequency of domestic violence.

Naciri says that aside from violence, attitudes towards gender roles in society are also holding back the region's women.

Furthermore, ongoing wars and political unrest have made families in the Middle East and North Africa less mobile, poorer and prone to domestic violence and rape.

"Eliminating violence is the right thing to do," Naciri said.

"What we need to say to our audience, which is the policy makers in the region, is that it is also the smart thing to do." 

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