GAZA CITY - Mahasen Darduna suffers in ways the world recognises; her suffering comes at the hands of the Israelis.
For all of a week, Mahasen Darduna, 30, has sat day and night by her son's bedside in hospital. The boy, Yahiya, 9, was among the group hit by an Israeli missile while playing football on a field at the Jabaliya refugee camp. Yahia survived, but with severe injuries.
"He needs my support, he has been confined to this bed since he was maimed by the Israeli missile," Mahasen says. But she must also slip away often to see her other five children, who she has moved to her mother-in-law's house in belief they will be safer there.
"I think of them constantly when we are apart. I feel terrible: two are getting sick, and they all cry each time we say goodbye. I can't be at both places."
In the same hospital room, Umm Ali Faraj looks after her seven-year-old son, who suffered a cracked skull in a bombing. Umm Ali too has rearranged her family life. Four of her seven children stay with her in the hospital. Umm Ali goes back and forth between hospital and home, cooking for the children and getting them off to school.
Like Mahasen and Umm Ali, countless women have suffered through more than 40 years of Israeli occupation.
"Palestinian women's lives are incredibly difficult under the crippling international siege and the Israeli army's killing invasions," says Nadyia Abu Nahla, director of the Women's Affairs Technical Centre in Gaza, an independent group that supports women's rights.
The large number of women who have been forced to give birth at army checkpoints is well documented by international and Israeli rights groups. Israel's policy of demolishing Palestinian homes has collectively punished tens of thousands of women in Gaza and the West Bank, rendering them and their children homeless.
But through this period, women have also struggled against denial of rights by Palestinian society.
"The dire economic situation is one of the causes of an increase of violence in Gaza," Abu Nahla told IPS. With resistance to the siege and military attacks, religious fanaticism has grown, and that has contributed to an increase in violence against women, she said.
"Islam forbids violence against women, and forbids the use of women as slaves," says Sheikh Dr. Hassan al-Jojo, head of Gaza's Legitimacy Court, the main court for society and family issues. But Dr. Jojo acknowledges that women do not have their full rights.
'Honour killing' has increased, according to Abu Nahla. At least 17 women died in 'honour killings' in Gaza last year, her centre reports. Last year and 2003 have been the worst years for known 'honour killings' in Gaza. In 2003, 34 women were killed in Gaza and the West Bank.
Jordanian criminal law enforced in the West Bank, and Egyptian law enforced in Gaza, neither effectively prohibit nor appropriately punish violence against women. Women are rarely encouraged to go to the courts, or to seek the help of social services for rehabilitation.
Police chief investigator Mussa Dawoud told IPS that violence against women is taken seriously. But in trying to solve problems, he says the police try to protect the family structure, and avoid complications that could lead to divorce.
Police officers and clan seniors routinely mediate to resolve issues around family violence, but provide solutions that usually mean that the abused woman is sent back to her husband. Where women receive support to take a strong stand, they face pressure and punishment from abusive men.
One 29-year-old woman from Khan Younies is not allowed by her husband to use the phone or even send an sms, says Abu Nahla. She is locked up at home daily, and on one occasion could not take her sick child to hospital. Other women have been beaten up by husbands for visiting relatives without their permission, Abu Nahla said.
Only 13 percent of Palestinian Legislative Council members are women, with fewer holding leading positions. "This is not enough," Abu Nahla said. "We are hoping there will be more seats for women." And, she said, that there will be safety at home in every way.
© 2008 Inter Press Service