The recent resolution adopted by the UN Economic and Social Council, singling out Israel as the only country responsible for violation of Palestinian women rights has run into controversy. The Council is accused of turning a blind eye to the subjugation women have to entail from Palestinian authorities. What is even more controversial is that countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Belarus who themselves are accused of oppressing women have assented to the resolution in which Israel’s role is being highlighted. Thus, it becomes important to revisit the question of who is responsible for subjugation of Palestinian women.
How Israel is responsible
It is pertinent to mention that even though social gender empowerment is required for the cause of Palestinian women; political liberation is also a key aspect. Israeli occupation and its policies lead to poverty, economic dependency and insecurity which aggravate women’s concerns.
Israeli occupation has resulted in spatial separation of Palestinian women. Palestinian women are divided into the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and the Diaspora. Their access to rights thus differs and this inhibits them from having a united agenda.
Women are deprived of their right to life, freedom of movement, liberty and security. Israel is alleged to have implemented a range of discriminatory laws and policies in furtherance of their annexation strategy which particularly affect women in Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank. These include discriminatory citizenship and residency laws, restrictions on family unification, punitive residency revocations and punitive home demolitions.
Detention of women by Israeli authorities is also said to have intensified over the years. They are said to be detained under unbearable living conditions in Israeli prisons where they are said to be deprived of human rights and subjected to gendered violence. Unnecessary strip searches and lack of access to sanitary towels (including restricted access to bathrooms) is reported. Israeli soldiers are also accused of sexually harassing them.
How Palestinian Authorities are Responsible
Due to the uprooting of families because of the wars and rebellions Palestinian people had to face, family honour and nationalist feeling became closely interlinked. This is a reason why gender liberation did not become so prominent.
This is not to say that Palestinian women have not registered any significant achievements at all. Women secured a 20% quota representation in the Legislative Council and local councils. The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was also ratified without reservations.
However, the above concessions do not come without their share of concerns. The CEDAW text has not been published in the PA’s official gazette. The Supreme Constitutional Court gave a decision in November 2017 that those international agreements need not be applied which come in conflict with the domestic law. This inhibits the significance of their assent to the agreement. Moreover, the representation of women in Palestinian politics is still less. The PLO Executive Council has 15 members out of which only 1 member, Hanan Ashrawi is female. Only the governorate of Ramallah and al-Bireh has a female governor- Laila Ghannam. The cabinet of Palestine has only 3 female ministers.
The PA security forces are also known to inhibit women’s political participation. The forces tell women to be at home and even visit their families to ‘discuss’ about their activism. They allegedly also visit their employee’s homes so as to get those women fired. Women at sites of demonstrations also experience gendered violence.
Oslo accords and their aftermath
The Oslo Accords did not feature any women. Moreover, a framework to empower the exiled male leadership of Palestine was evolved and not a framework to empower Palestinian people as a whole.
The post-Oslo accords period saw the increase of donations from International organizations to the civil society in Palestine. Before the Oslo accords, the civil society and political parties were closely connected. However, this ‘NGO-ization’ led them to get further apart as the issues raised by the civil society became more ‘generic’, as in they became isolated from the social, political and economic factors that had a bearing on them. Their activities became centered around project deadlines, budgets, funding proposals and annual reports. Thus, women issues also got severed from the rhetoric of nationalism and liberation, which was previously seen as an intricate part.
To conclude, while raising the issue of Israel’s oppression of women might be a good step; it’s important to understand that it is not solely responsible for their condition. Palestinian authorities too need to reform and international organizations should not shy away from highlighting the political context in which women’s issues arise.