MIDEAST: Bureaucracy Limits Rights of Palestinian Women

  • by Mel Frykberg (ramallah)
  • Saturday, August 28, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

The Hamas authorities in Gaza have been making international headlines as they slowly restrict the rights of women. The restrictions have included banning women from smoking argilah (also known as hookah or water-pipe) in public places and riding pillion on motorbikes. Schoolgirls and women lawyers are now forced to cover their hair, and mannequins displaying female underwear have been banned from Gaza's shop windows.

In the West Bank, five of the Palestinian Authority's (PA) 24 cabinet ministers are women. Women head two West Bank municipalities. A woman has been appointed commander of one of the Palestinian police stations, and a woman also runs the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

The Governor of Ramallah (Palestine's de facto capital) Dr Leila Ghanem has several government bodies falling under her jurisdiction. Earlier, she had been a high-ranking official in the Palestinian Security Services.

Nissan FM Radio station has a staff of 20, most of them women, and hosts a Café au Lait programme which broadcasts six hours a day. The radio station focuses its programme content on the rights and interests of Palestinian women.

'Palestinian women constitute half our society and they are beginning to be recognised as full partners to their male counterparts,' Rabiah Diab, the PA minister of women's affairs told IPS.

And in the most significant development in March this year, PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad approved new legislation, which would equate 'honour killings' of Palestinian women with murder.

Every year, throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, dozens of women are killed by their male relatives for allegedly having an affair or bringing 'dishonour' of a sexual nature to the family.

Many of the murders, however, are actually motivated by other reasons. But the men know that even if they are found guilty of an 'honour killing' they will get off with an extremely light sentence, in the worst-case scenario. Fayyad approved the legislation following several years of hard work and intensive lobbying by a number of Palestinian human rights and civil society organisations, as well as the PA Ministry of Women's Affairs.

'We spent many late nights working on the issue and continually pushing the relevant authorities to give the matter the attention it needed,' says Maha Abu Dayyeh the director of the Women's Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC) in Ramallah.

'In March of this year Fayyad ratified our proposals after it was approved by the PA Ministry of Justice. It was then passed on to PA President Mahmoud Abbas who refused to sign it and asked for further inputs,' Abu Dayyeh told IPS.

'The PA Ministry of the Interior, which was consulted on the issue, voiced various objections to the new legislation. Following this, the justice ministry decided to ignore all our previous work and research and asked foreign donors for a grant to finance new research on the subject,' she added.

The Interior Ministry has been involved in numerous Palestinian human rights abuses such as torture. It is also accused of abusing civil rights, including denying Palestinians passports based on political allegiances.

The ministry works in conjunction with EU Cops, a contingent of European police and advisors based in Ramallah and funded by the European Union, who help to train and advise Palestinian police and other security forces. According to WCLAC, EU Cops is one of the donors of the new research project to inquire into 'honour killings' and other gender-based issues.

'We are not prepared to start from scratch after spending years exploring the issue only to see our efforts — which were approved by the foreign minister — ignored by the PA and some who fund it. It would be unethical as well as an enormous waste of our time and the resources of foreign donors,' Abu Dayyeh told IPS.

Abu Dayyeh added that despite the goodwill of some senior politicians to improve the rights of Palestinian women, Israel's continuing and illegal occupation of Palestinian territory was destroying the West Bank economically, and negatively affecting Palestinian society.

'Don't be deceived by the Ramallah bubble where some people are getting rich and driving flashy cars. They are the minority. The majority of Palestinians are suffering great financial deprivation. And in our conservative society, when men can't be the breadwinners who support their families, they feel emasculated. Then it is often the women who pay the price.

'The number of women suffering from domestic violence has spiked in the last few years. If anything, the plight of women is getting worse despite efforts at certain governmental levels,' Abu Dayyeh told IPS.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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