Women’s stories about violence
Contributed by Arab Educational Institute on 25.10.2013:
This is a series of stories of women from the Bethlehem countryside, 2012, made for an AEI project on women’s rights.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
Married as a girl
A mother told us about her daughter who was forced to get engaged at the age of 14 to her cousin. She was still a little girl who used to play with the other children in the street. At the age of 15 she got married. She had hold responsibilities at an early age: cleaning the house, cooking and raising children. Now her sister is 19 years old and she opposes the idea of getting married because of her sister’s suffering.
Caged in a room
There was a man who loved a girl and proposed her three times. Unfortunately, her family refused because her cousin also proposed her and she should accept him… After unsuccessful efforts to convince the family, the girl and the boy decided to go away and to find shelter in the eastern villages [Ta’amreh]… They called to inform the girl’s family, who were very angry and threatened the girl that if she stayed out of home, they would find and kill her. Both of them decided to go back so they could convince the family that they really loved each other and wanted to get married…. Unfortunately, at the end, the girl’s family caged their daughter in a room and obliged her to marry her cousin… leaving the two lovers devastated.
Samia told us a story about the suffering in her marriage: “I was an ambitious girl who used to have many dreams. Once a young man proposed me and after a long discussion between my mother and my father, they convinced me to accept. My father insisted that we would have to write the wedding contract. They didn’t give me any chance to get introduced to him during my engagement period. We started immediately to prepare for the wedding and buy the furniture. When everything was almost completed, many problems came up between me and my fiancé. He started to insult and humiliate me. I realized that appearances differ from reality and that all the beautiful feelings, actions and words before weren’t real.
I told my parents about everything and that I just wanted to break off this engagement. Unfortunately my parents refused, saying, ‘This will embarrass us in the family and our society will not accept this after the wedding contract is written and the wedding prepared’ and they forced me to get married to the man. After marriage, many problems happened between us. My family interfered without any result, and life became difficult and impossible. Therefore, I asked him for a divorce and got it after two years. I really regret now what happened and felt sorry for myself because I didn’t want this marriage from the very beginning. My parents led me to become a divorced woman in an oppressive society.”
Living in a state of loss
Fatima, 50 years old: “This is my story. A family which treated me unfairly since childhood has dominated my life. Although I am the only daughter among three brothers, my father and my brothers used to beat and treat me badly. My mother died when I was a child. This left me like an orphan whose main duty was to serve my merciless brothers. When they grew up, they got married. I stayed with my father who died when I was 18 years. As they derived me from my right to study, I went to an orphanage and worked there as a volunteer. Then they started to give me a small amount of money. After some years, a married old man, who had sons and daughters, proposed me, and I accepted him thinking that my life would become finally better. But unfortunately I was a maid for him and his children. Rather than doing this, I started to work in a sewing company and my husband took all my salary and beat me and treated me harshly.
I gave birth to a nice girl but he didn’t change the way he treated me. After two years of marriage, he divorced me and asked me to leave his house. So I left his house and took my daughter who was my whole life… I lived in a state of loss as I could not go to one of my brothers because they were not interested in me. Therefore, I went back to live in my father’s house which consisted of one room and I moved on with my life.
My daughter was a slow learner, so I put her in a school for special needs. I was always worried about her while going to work. Years passed and my daughter grew up and became 16 years old. One day, now almost a year ago, she asked me if she could visit her father and I agreed. She hesitated at the last moment, but I encouraged her to go and I went to work.
After a few hours, the police phoned me and told me that my daughter fell down from a roof and was taken to a hospital in Hebron. I hurried to the hospital. She was unconscious and died a month after the incident. Reasons for her death were not discovered until this moment… Was it an accident or did her father commit this crime to take revenge on me and leave me alone and miserable? Now I live my life with sorrow. I blame myself for encouraging her to visit her father… This is the story of my life within this unjust society. I suffered from my family first and my husband second.”
Mariam Sbeih’s story: “When I was 14, my family forced me to marry. Unfortunately, when I was almost 18 years, my husband died. I became a widow with 2 sons. I took responsibilities at an early age as I was forced to do everything with my mother in law… I used to wash all family clothes for five or six hours… Soaking in lye and washing in large wooden tubes… This left my hands with several skin diseases. Moreover, I was forbidden to visit my parent’s house and attending any occasions. Once I asked them if I could continue my studies at school but they refused.
After five years, I was given two choices: either to leave my sons and go back to my parents’ house, or get married to my brother-in-law .I accepted the second choice. However, he got married to another woman exactly three months after our wedding. I stayed with him for ten years which were full of problems and misunderstandings…. After all this suffering, I realized that I was deprived from my rights as a child, woman, female and wife for more than 15 years. I decided to ask for divorce which took years, but finally I am free. I continued my studies and got 75% in the tawjihi. Then I started to work in an organization for the handicapped. I ended up living a good and successful life.
Rula, 28, cried while talking: “There is no privacy at all in my life… I am always interrogated about where I were or where I will go… If one day my sons run away from school I am the only one to be blamed by all the family… My nervous husband always breaks everything and kicks me out of the house. Now I take refuge at my parents’ house. My mom is criticizing: ‘There are few husbands for young girls. How can you get married if you get divorced?’
I lived a bad childhood within a divorced family. I lived my life as people in the diaspora, in my uncles’ house, where each one has his own rules. I wanted my children to live a normal and stable life, but unfortunately my 12-year–old daughter is badly affected by our problems at home.”
Control by mother-in-law
Due to some problems at the beginning of my married life, my husband and his mother-in-law forbid all my family members to visit me. Eleven years have since passed and despite my acceptance of many illogical things, I always have arguments with my mother-law who really likes to control everything in my life… I don’t feel I have privacy…
When we got married, my husband was 23 years and I was 15 years. We were really young and my husband used to work and gave his salary to his parents. To my great surprise, he was also after his marriage obliged to give them every shekel of his salary. Our main problem is that all the financial issues are decided by my father-in-law. My husband is very angry when I ask him for anything. He releases his anger in my face… Due to this, I can’t control my children. They do not behave well with me and their dad because they know that we do not control our finances. I buy things from the supermarket on debt and at the end of each month, my father-in-law goes and pays. My kids should ask him first if they want to buy candy.
Forced to leave her daughters
A woman lost her husband at the age of 21, leaving her with 3 daughters. Due to the traditions, her family forced her to marry again. After one year, her new husband forced her to leave her daughters. She was obliged to give them to their uncles who separated them so that each daughter lived with a different uncle. Unfortunately, their uncles didn’t treat them well. They were forced to leave school and get married at an early age. This left them illiterate. They don’t know how to deal with their children and how to help them in their school homework.
My name is Manal. I am 32 years old. I am married and gave birth to four children. Since the beginning of my marriage, I suffered from my husband’s family. They used to treat me badly. Then the second intifada started. My husband was wanted by the Israeli military forces. He couldn’t sleep at the house except for short periods. He used to leave us before dawn. During several times, the Israeli soldiers stormed our house to look for him. My children really got terrified by their way of entering the house and their insults. After some years of chasing my husband, they arrested him at the house, and sentenced him for 12 years. At first I was not allowed to visit him. Only our 10-year-old daughter was allowed. She used to suffer from exposure to special inspection equipment and radiation during visits. After some years I was allowed to visit my husband once a month with his mother.
Her main goal was to make problems between me and my husband. She tried to convince him to divorce me. One day my husband’s family forced me to leave the house. The bad relation with my husband’s family made my children suffer. Despite all this suffering, I was patient and tried to provide the basic things for my children from the allowance my husband received. My husband remained for 12 years in prison. But nowadays I suffer from a new problem. My children do not accept the presence of their father at home because they were raised up without a father.
“My name is Yasmine, I was born in Jordan and lived there my whole life. I got married to a Palestinian man from the West Bank. We made our wedding in Jordan, after which I moved to Palestine with a visit permit. Since that day I have lived in Palestine illegally. I can’t move freely in the occupied territory because I am not a resident. I am also not comfortable in my marriage. My husband and his family are not cooperative at all and my husband doesn’t respect or appreciate me.
This increases the need to see my family. However, I cannot visit them because the tourism company in Jerusalem seized my Jordanian passport. I won’t be allowed to pass to Jordan. At the same time, if I ever had a chance and would pass, I won’t be able to take my kids because I entered the West Bank as single. Now I feel that my life is a hell. I don’t find any place where I can express myself. I sometimes go to a counseling center to guide me in my life and to show me a way how to live in these difficult circumstances.”
Challenging interference of family and family in law, also in relation to imprisonment
Although the stories are mainly about suffering, there are also many examples of strength; like having the courage to ask for a divorce and get it after a long time; educating oneself and the children; delaying a marriage; taking a decision to live alone, struggling with the family in law to get space; even in a desperate situation to ask for guidance, and more.
“I am a Palestinian woman from Walajeh who used to live in Amman before marriage. Once two men proposed me. One was my cousin but I refused him despite the approval of my family. The other was a young foreigner from the West Bank and I realized that he was the perfect guy in my eyes. Therefore, I insisted to marry the second. I had my reason to refuse my cousin as my sister got married to his brother and was never happy.
After my marriage I moved to live with my husband in the West Bank and we lived a happy life with our two daughters. Unfortunately, at one point the Israeli forces imprisoned my husband and he remained in prison for five years. In those years, I suffered a lot from his family who didn’t respect and support me at all. They insisted that I would leave my daughters and go back to my parents’ house in Amman. But I was strong and stood in the face of everyone, telling them, ‘These are my daughters and this is my house, and no one has a right to deprive me from my rights as a mother… I’ll be waiting for my husband and I will work hard to raise my daughters without any help’. Despite the absence of my husband, I succeeded to provide my daughters with a good life. The years passed and when my husband was released, my life became easier and happier. I didn’t give a chance to anyone to interfere in my life.”