First Female Forensic Doctor in Palestine: A Contribution to the Advancement of Women's Rights

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15th July 2018

The first National Centre for Forensic Medicine (NCFM) opened in Palestine in 2017 with the financial support from the Government of Canada. Since then, seven freshly graduate forensic doctors have been operating the NCFM, proceeding with physical examinations and autopsies to help with criminal investigations and strengthen the Palestinian justice system. With the assistance of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and prior to joining the NCFM, the forensic doctors studied at the University of Jordan from 2013 to 2017 towards an advanced degree in forensic medicine and undertook specialized trainings in handling cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Dr. Hafsa Salameh is one of them. She is also the first Palestinian woman to work in this field; a matter of pride and a driver for change for her country.

When Dr. Hafsa Salameh was selected in 2013 by the Ministry of Justice to join the NCFM, she decided to seize the opportunity to become a specialist and support Palestinian women despite her fears and the challenges she would have to take up. At that time, being the first Palestinian woman to practice forensic medicine seemed to be a mountain to climb as no other women had ever worked in this field in Palestine. Her choice also had a direct impact on her life and professional plans as she was already a mother working as a family doctor in Jenin.The support she received from the Ministry of Justice, UNODC, and her husband especially, helped her make up her mind.

Apart from Hafsa's training programme at the University of Jordan, UNDOC provided her with the chance to do work placements at St. Marry Sexual and Referral Centre in Manchester in the United Kingdom and at Victoria Hospital in Australia. The aim of these work placements was to improve her skills to examine sexual and gender-based violence cases, which concern 37% of women in Palestine. [1]

And Hafsa can see the relief on the faces of the women and girls who come to her office for forensic examination and discover that the doctor is a woman. Women feel more confident and freer to talk with a female practitioner" she assures.

Subjected to traditional patriarchal norms and values, some of the women who experienced violence do not dare to press charges against their aggressors or often change their mind or testimony once interrogated or physically examined by a male practitioner.

Now that the foundations of quality forensic medicine services are set, Hafsa hopes to see a change in her country in the way the justice system handles SGBV cases but also a change in the mentality to encourage women to fight for their rights. There is a need to increase the awareness and confidence of women towards forensic medicine services. Recruiting more female forensic doctors can be a solution" suggests Hafsa. "Improving the privacy within the forensic clinics where the victims receive sexual assault examination must also be considered."

With the cooperation of her colleagues, Hafsa wants to redouble the efforts to contribute to the development and improvement of the forensic medicine in Palestine and eliminate violence against women. Conducting research on SGBV in Palestine to update or fill the gaps in national data is one of her top priorities.

Hafsa encourages Palestinian women to study forensic medicine despite the challenges they may face. Her experience could be summarized in one advice she likes to share with others: don't be afraid of trying new professional fields in Palestine. It can only bring positive changes to your life and our society." 


[1] Data provided by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) through the PCBS 2011 Violence Survey.

* Published in  ROMENA Newsletter April- June 2018.