My body is my property: Dismantling gender-based violence in the West Bank

By Elizabeth Arif-Fear

My body is my property” – a simple yet powerful slogan embroidered across this Palestinian bracelet which highlights the pernicious problem of patriarchy and gender-based violence (GBV) in the West Bank. An ongoing issue in the region, GBV and the age-old concept of “honour” are continuing to deny women in the region their most fundamental freedoms: the rights to bodily autonomy, freedom of expression and in some cases, even the right to life.

The West Bank itself is a region plagued with complex problems: occupation, political corruption, economic difficulties and a deeply ingrained sense of patriarchy. In this society, such a combination is lethal for Palestinian women.

This year alone, 18 women have been killed at the hands of their families. Most recently was the infamous case of the late Isrsa Ghareeb – a 21-year-old makeup artist who was brutally killed by her brother in law – whose heartbreaking screams recorded from hospital were shared across the Internet for the world to hear and bear witness to her suffering.

Currently supporting Palestinian women on the ground is the non-profit organisation, Become The Voice. A UK-based NGO, they have been working with women like Israa in Hebron for two years now, striving to raise awareness of the rights of women to tackle the longstanding – yet often hidden – issue of GBV, and to empower women in the region to seek support and stand up for their rights.

In Hebron, Become The Voice brings together local police, the women’s safe house, third sector organisations working to tackle GBV and larger NGOs to train young women in Hebron to spread awareness of GBV and advise women on how to seek help. Last year alone in fact, their work resulted in one woman calling the police to report a case of domestic violence.

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Local police working with young women attending a gender-based violence awareness-raising session led by Become The Voice, Hebron (October, 2019) (Image: Become the Voice, 2019 ©)

However, in such a patriarchal society, it’s not only social attitudes which need to change but the financial prospects of women too. Without the means to support themselves, women remain vulnerable to abuse and unable to support themselves should the worst happen and they need to flee their family home.

Become the Voice has however now set up a partnership with Women In Hebron, a group of seamstresses whose aim is to build economic independence for women. Together, they launched a unique selection of handmade bracelets aimed at tackling gender-based violence with two clear messages: “Freedom from honour” – “My body is my property“.

A local grassroots organisation, Women In Hebron currently employs 150 divorced, widowed and financially-struggling women, offering critical financial stability in an area where 1 in 2 women are unemployed.

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Become the Voice’s hand-sewn bracelets in collaboration with Women in Hebron, bearing the messages “My body is my property” and “Freedom from honour” (Images: Become The Voice, 2019 ©)

Combining local handicraft and a powerful message against GBV embroidered by local women themselves, these bracelets make a strong statement: we know our rights and we will stand up.

If you would like to know more about Become The Voice’s work please email: becomethevoice@gmail.com.

To purchase a bracelet to help fund future projects, please visit the BTV shop.

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