A forum of women in the Negev has launched the first hotline for victims of sexual and other assault for Bedouin women. The hotline is intended only for Bedouin in an attempt to encourage these women living in a conservative and closed society to ask for help.
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Safa Shahada, the head of the forum, said the project is unique and was established only after the investment of great effort in enlisting resources, and in encouraging women to break the barrier of silence. Many women have asked for such help after being the victims of sexual, physical and verbal violence, she said. Any Bedouin woman can make the free phone call and speak to a volunteer trained to help, said Shahada.
The help line will start with one day a week, and as more volunteers join and are trained more days will be added. They have already distributed flyers and posters all over the Negev, including in the unrecognized Bedouin communities. A number of such women have already contacted them, even before the help line was launched, she said.
The road to establishing the hotline was difficult and the funding came from foreign sources such as the European Union and the U.S. Embassy. While there are no figures on the number of such abused women in the Bedouin community, “there is no doubt the problem exists and the women’s main problem is to break the barrier of silence,” she said.
The Working Group for Equality in Personal Status Law, a coalition of women's and human rights groups established in 1995 to raise the status of Palestinian women citizens of Israel, released its report on underage marriages in Arab society on Wednesday, in preparation for International Women's Day Friday. The figures, based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, show that 60 percent of those women who marry before the age of 18 are from the Arab community and 1,442 Arab women under the age of 17 are married - 86 percent of all married Israeli women under 17. The organization has started a campaign in the Arab community against underage marriage, which they say is the cause of many problems in Arab society.