Violence Against Women in the Arab World: Eyes Shut Wide Open

  • Saïda Douki DedieuEmail author
  • Uta Ouali
  • Rym Ghachem
  • Hager Karray
  • Ilhem Issaoui
Living reference work entry


Violence against women and girls is a global phenomenon that is not confined to any particular geographical region, race, ethnicity, society, culture, age group, or socioeconomic status. Recent reviews have emphasized that it has reached epidemic proportions and that it has major negative consequences, not only for the victims, but for the whole society. However, it remains a socially accepted and hidden issue in many parts of the world including the Middle East and North Africa region. Despite the scarcity of scientific data and the systematic under-reporting, consistent findings show that in Arab countries, as well as worldwide, at least one out of three women has been exposed to domestic violence which is the most prevalent form that affects women of all social strata across the world.

As well as traditional forms of violence such as wife-battering and sexual abuse, Arab women suffer, throughout their lives, from specific types of domestic violence: carelessness, female genital mutilation, lack of education/access to education, confinement at home, sexual abuse, child marriages, forced marriages, temporary and polygamous marriages, repudiation, honor-related violence directed at both married and unmarried women, and abuse by other family members (such as in-law, parents, and brothers). Outside the home, they experience many forms of sexual violence and commercial exploitation. Moreover, the risks of violence have increased with the crises sweeping the region (war, armed conflicts, and uprisings) and the rise of Muslim extremism.

Violence against women is not only tolerated but also often justified, and this discourages the victims from disclosing it and withholding punishment from the perpetrators. Violence stems from deep cultural roots in a “shame-honor” society that fosters a culture of violence against women, through the crucial importance attached to the “kinship spirit,” through the subordinate status of women, and through a misinterpretation of Islam. However, arguably the most important factor currently underpinning violence against women was expressed by Hannah Arendt, when she stated: “The reign of pure violence starts when power begins to be lost.

As a consequence, fighting violence against women and girls is of the highest priority as it comes at a very high cost, at the levels of human rights, public health, and financial expenses and is an impediment to development and democracy. It should be based on two pillars: legislation to adequately repress the offences and crimes and to protect the victims, along with the promotion of gender equality. But, as said by Mao-Tse-Toung: “Obviously, in matters of women’s rights, we must begin with laws, but since then, all remains to be done.” This means that legislation is necessary to debunk the myth that domestic violence is a “private affair,” but insufficient to win the fight. Legislation must be accompanied by access to education for all females to change the mentality of a patriarchal society. The challenge in combating gender-based violence is that most governments deny there is a problem. Such a challenge cannot be met without a strong political will and the adhesion of the civil society.


Violence against women and girls Arab world Specific features of violence Cultural issues Tolerance towards violence 

List of Abbreviations


Battered woman syndrome


Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women


Convention on the Rights of the Child


Commission on the Status of Women


Female genital mutilation


Gender-Based Violence


Millennium Development Goal


Non-governmental organization


United Nations Development Programme


United Nations Fund for Population Activities


United Nations Children’s Fund


United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women


Violence against women/girls


World Health Organization


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Saïda Douki Dedieu
    • 1
    Email author
  • Uta Ouali
    • 2
  • Rym Ghachem
    • 2
  • Hager Karray
    • 3
  • Ilhem Issaoui
    • 2
  1. 1.Faculty of Medicine of TunisUniversity Claude BernardLyonFrance
  2. 2.Hôpital RaziLa ManoubaTunisia
  3. 3.CHS AnnecyFrance

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