Silent Struggle: 34% of Egyptian Women with Disabilities Face Violence from Husbands
By: Taha Al-Khudari
Violence against women is undoubtedly a violation of human rights, as recent global statistics show that one out of three women suffers from physical or sexual violence. They fall victim to many negative consequences that can impact entire families, communities, and nations. Disability is a risk factor for abuse, and when it comes to gender, women, and girls with disabilities are more vulnerable to violence for being women first and people with disabilities second. Women and girls with disabilities face many challenges and difficulties that hinder their empowerment, enhance their participation in society, and prevent them from effectively contributing to progress and developmental achievements. They are denied effective participation in society because they do not receive the same care and education as others.
Most violence against women happens at the hands of the husband regardless of social, economic, religious, and cultural differences. According to the World Health Organization, more than 38% of femicide cases worldwide result from the husband’s abusive behavior. If we shed light on Egypt, we find that 34% of women with disabilities are subjected to violence due to their disability by their husbands, while 61% of women with disabilities aged 18 years and over are exposed to some form of violence at the hands of their husbands—54% of this violence is considered psychological violence, 43% is regarded as physical violence, and 20% is considered sexual violence. Additionally, 14% of previously married women suffered from all four types of violence at the hands of their husbands.
The National Council for Women and the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics conducted a study entitled “Violence against Women with Disabilities” in February 2022, which was the first of its kind. The study was conducted on poor women aged 18 years and over who suffer from disabilities (movement, hearing, visual, or multiple) and benefit from the Karama program. However, women with psychological, intellectual, and developmental disabilities were excluded due to their difficulty communicating with them and the need for mediating intervention during interviews. The study is one of the first studies of its kind in the world and was conducted in partnership with UN Women, the United Nations Population Fund, and the United Nations Development Program, with the generous support of the United Nations Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Kingdom of Norway. It tackled the experiences of women with disabilities with gender-based violence (psychological or physical and sexual) committed by their husbands.
Nearly 60% of previously married women report their subjection to physical, psychological, or sexual violence at the hands of their husbands. While 33% of the women indicated that they had been subjected to such violence, these percentages are much higher than those reflected. Psychological violence is the most common type of marital violence, with about 54% of married women being subjected to one or more forms of psychological violence before marriage, and about 30% of women were recently subjected to it.
These results are close to the 2015 Gender-Based Violence Survey but reflect much higher rates. About 43% of the women who participated in the 2015 Gender-Based Violence Survey indicated that they had been subjected to psychological violence from their husbands. The study suggested that the majority of the sample of the Violence Against Women with Disabilities Survey 2020 was subjected to disability-based violence. 34% of previously married women reported being subjected to various types of disability-based violence by their husbands, while 22% had recently experienced such violence. Disability-based violence accounts for 65% compared to other forms of violence experienced by women. Whereas disability-based violence is the most common—which is evident from 17% of women with disabilities reporting that they have been humiliated, 13% have been refused assistance when assistance is needed, and 10% have experienced discrimination in general or discrimination in treatment between them and other family members in particular.
While the study continued that the woman’s age, marital status, and educational level impact the patterns of spousal violence, it showed that young people are more at risk of experiencing marital violence. Women under 35 were the most vulnerable to abuse from their husbands. Therefore, they are more likely to suffer from the effects of this experienced violence on childbearing and reproductive health. This pattern shows that younger men tend to be more violent than older men and that spousal violence begins earlier in many relationships. This finding may also reflect that younger women are more willing to disclose their subjection to violence than older women. The study concludes that a large percentage of women with multiple disabilities and women with severe disabilities have been exposed to acts of violence committed by their husbands.
This reflects how harsh some husbands can be when abusing women with disabilities. The study also revealed that younger women are more likely than older women to be subjected to controlling husband practices, as about 11% of ex-married women refused to give them the necessary money to cover household expenses, even if they were financially capable. At the same time, 10% indicated that their husbands don’t allow them to work. Although religious teachings, international conventions, and Egyptian law prohibit and criminalize severe forms of domestic violence, about 38% of women with disabilities agree with the justifications given for this type of violence, such as neglecting housework, neglecting their children, delay in preparing food, burning food, constant suspicions and questions, refusal of sexual relations, arguing, going out without permission and being financially irresponsible. The most accepting segment of this sample was women from Upper Egypt.
In comparison, about a third of the women confirmed that they feel afraid of their husbands most or all of the time. Concerning domestic violence or the surrounding environment, the results showed that 80% were subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). It also showed that 18% were married before age 18, while 14% were forced to marry. About 10% were subjected to some form of sexual violence by family members or people in the surrounding environment, about 8% were subjected to sexual harassment, 3% were subjected to sexual assault and 15 were subjected to rape. Women’s subjection to disability-based violence comes in second place, as about 3 out of 10 women, or 28%, have been subjected to some form of violence. In contrast, 16% have been subjected to such violence.
Nearly 10% were subjected to physical violence, molestation, or rape by family members or people from their surrounding environment. Being humiliated or belittled due to their disability is the most common type of disability-based violence that women or girls experience at the hands of their families or the surrounding environment. The study emphasized that women victims of sexual violence frequently do not disclose to anyone that they have been subjected to such violence, or they only inform their families. The study also stated that violence against women and girls in public places limits women’s freedom of movement and negatively affects their education, employment, other life opportunities, and health and well-being. Moreover, gender-based violence defines women’s integration into social and public life. About 9% of women with moderate disabilities and 6% with severe disabilities (completely blind) experienced all forms of violence in public places. Most of them had passive reactions.
To reduce and prevent these criminal acts, in 2014, Egypt passed the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law as an amendment to Article 306 (a) of the Egyptian Penal Code. The law states strict punishments if the offender has authority over the victim, several people committed the crime, or at least one carried a weapon. Penalties usually range between two to five years in prison, and fines range between 20,000 to 50,000 Egyptian pounds.
It should be noted that there has not yet been issued a unified law to combat gender-based violence, in addition to the lack of implementation of Article 306 (a) as well as failure to form the Anti-Discrimination Commission stated in Article (53) of the 2014 Egyptian Constitution. Additionally, it is necessary to enact legislation in which the husband is punished if he fails to notify the wife, manipulates, or colludes with others of a second marriage according to the text of Article (11) bis of Law No. 25 of 1929 amended by Law No. 100 of 1985. This law states that the man has to acknowledge his marital status in the marriage certificate. If he is married, he must indicate in the certificate the identities of the married women.
There is also a need to remove the link between the text mentioned above of Article (306) of the Penal Code—related to harassment— and the idea of sexual benefit. In many cases, sexual harassment is based on humiliating and belittling women and imposing some kind of male control over them. Furthermore, it is necessary to consider revoking the text of Article (60) of the Penal Code, which allows the assaulting of women and girls under the name of the right to discipline (a concept borrowed from Islamic teachings).
On another note, it is necessary to issue a unified law to combat violence against women. From this standpoint, a draft law was submitted by Representative Nashwa El-Deeb, a member of the House of Representatives, and 60 other members. The draft law consists of 7 chapters that contain 50 legal articles. The first chapter includes definitions for all forms of gender-based violence, whether moral, physical, sexual, rape, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, or domestic violence.
The Egyptian law guaranteed and supported many rights for people with disabilities. For instance, law No. 10 of 2018 provided many privileges and forms of care and protection to people with disabilities. Moreover, the House of Representatives law guarantees the allocation of 8 seats for people with disabilities within the party-list system according to the provisions of Article (244) of the constitution. In addition, law No. 11 of 2019 aims to promote, develop, and protect the rights of people with disabilities. Additionally, law No. 200 of 2020 calls for establishing a “Support Fund for People with Disabilities” headed by the Prime Minister and the fact that the rights of people with disabilities are stipulated in “Egypt’s Vision 2023.”