Gender and Political and Social Change in Palestine Woman Political Participation

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Gender and Political and Social Change in Palestine Woman Political Participation

Gender and Political and Social Change in Palestine Woman Political Participation

Peace Center for Community Training and Research (PEACE)

POBox (7039)-Khan Younis-Gaza Strip-Palestine

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Gender and Political and Social  Change in Palestine Woman Political Participation 


Kamal M M Astal

Associate Professor

Al-Azhar University of Gaza


Development Studies Series (3)

First Edition- August  2005

Gender and Political and Social Change in Palestine

Palestinian Woman Political Participation


Women’s political participation encompasses a wide range of actions and strategies. It includes voting and voter education, candidacy in national and local elections, lending support to candidates who carry gender-sensitive agenda, campaigning against those who are have policies that are ‘anti-women’s rights’, and advocating for the integration of a women’s rights agenda in the platforms of candidates and parties.

Political participation strategies include mechanisms that enhance women’s political participation. Examples of these are gender quotas that allot 30 to 50 percent of decision-making positions for women; gender mainstreaming strategies that promote a culture of gender sensitivity in government; national machineries for women, which have the primary role of leading and monitoring gender mainstreaming strategies of governments; gender or women’s budgets that allot a percentage of national budget for gender mainstreaming and affirmative action for women’s advancement. In legislatures of some democratic countries, women’s sectoral representatives have been appointed on terms and capacities at par with elected representatives. A more recent mechanism that provides a leeway for women’s political participation is the party list system where women’s groups can bid for seats in the legislature.

Objectives of the Study

This  research  aims at:

  • Sheding light on the Women and Gender and political participation in general and in Palestine in particular. s.
  • Discussing the issue of gender and political and social change in Palestine and in the Arab world.
  • Analyzing the degree of interaction and relationship between the issue of woman political participation and socio-politco-economic factors.
  • Introducing a field study and analytical  model of women political participation in Palestine
  • Clarifying the importance of involving gender perspective in various aspects of the social, economic and political development in Palestine.
  •  Evaluating the woman role in the Palestinian political life.

The statement of the problem of the study

The research represents an attempt to find answers for a number of questions. These questions form the core problem of the issue of gender and political and social change in the Palestinian Territories. The problem of the study includes the following questions:

How and when the political participation of women in Palestine was started and developed? What are the women goals in the Palestinian political and social life? What are the main factors that affect women participation in the Palestinian political life? Why are the woman representation and participation in political and social activities still weak and under-represented? How the women organizations were formed and what their impact on women and gender perspective in various areas of Palestinian political life? What are the type/s of tripartite/mutual interaction among Women organizations, the local community and political parties, and the whole society at large? What is the legal framework that controls the woman political and social activities? What are the main constraints and restrictions that hinder the expansion of woman political participation in the Palestinian political life? What is the Islam viewpoint about the woman political participation?

The researcher has introduced an attempt to answering the above-mentioned questions.

In words, the main statement of the problem of this research is that it deals with a case study of the issue of gender and political and social change in Palestine.

Scope of the study

The scope of this study contains of three dimensions: historical, legal and subject-related dimension. The historical scope gives a background to the issue of women political participation in Palestine, particularly during the period from 1996-2005. The legal dimension discusses the legal framework of gender and woman political participation. The subject-related perspective examines various aspects of women political participation; definition, limitations, motivations, and types of women political participation in the Palestinian political life.


The methodology of the research combines between theoretical and applied field-work-survey- approaches.

Theoretically, Historical, Descriptive, Analytical Approach has been applied throughout the research.

Practically, a case-study-field work approach has been employed in following up emergence and development of the woman political participation in Palestine. A field study was conducted to analyze the women political participation.  The researcher looks at the filed study as the sample of the research.

Historical Analytical Approach is used in analyzing emergence and development of the women movement in Palestine and emergence and development of their contribution to political and social life.

Hypotheses of the study

This study explores the following hypotheses:

(a)                                        The gender perspective is playing a vital role in the political and social change in the Palestinian community.

(b)                                       A significance feature of the gender and woman organizations and Committees is their vulnerability to factional syndrome and tribal balances.

(c)                                        Women and gender perspective are still suffering from under-representation in local and political levels of the Palestinian community.

(d)                                        Most of the women organizations and Committees may be transformed to become a sort of “political shops” and port-parole to a Palestinian faction or another instead of being whole community-oriented service-introducer organizations.

Difficulties of the study

It must be clear that there were some significant difficulties and research problems associated with this study.

  • Source materials form less-developed areas could not be given the standard evidential weight. So the researcher had to sieve and to screen the information.
  • The basic methods of research for this study were traditional ones of analyzing written material, interviews, field work and observation. The shortcomings of these methods are well known. The official view derived from documents and the subjective nature of interviews and personal observations were very clear.
  •  In addition, a researcher, when in contact with any organization, women committee, or responsible personality, may be confronted by indifference, suspicion, an over-willingness to say what might be expected answer, or a latent and sometimes overt antagonism. No criticism of these attitudes is here implied but they clearly presented a problem to the researcher.
  • Another problem associated with the research was the lack and insufficient information about the issue of gender and woman political participation in Palestine.
  • Moreover, it should be remembered that the Palestinian society, in general, , with many other less-developed areas, is to a great degree a verbal society, which means that there is no habit of recording  and documenting events in writing.
  • The unstable socio-economic-political and security events in Palestine due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and semi-daily bombardment of the area. This situation added another difficulty in the way of performing the field work and gathering materials. The unpunctuality of the interviewees was another obstacle encountered in this study.
  • Finally, there was a financial difficulty faced the researcher in implementing and publishing this study. The researcher had to cover the expenses of the research from his own   financial resources.

 The plan and structure of the study

This study is divided into ten sections in addition to an introduction and a conclusion.

Section One: An introductory Section and Methodology. This section is an introductory section that discusses the importance of the study, the scope of the study, the statement of the problems of the study and the methodology and the plan of the research.

 Section Two: gives a brief review of previous studies and literature review dealing with the issue of Palestinian woman political participation.. section

Section Three: An introduction into political participation

Section Four: Limitations and factors that affect the woman political participation

Section Five: Islam and woman political participation

Section Six: Arab women and political participation: lack of effective  participation and mechanisms for activation.

Section Seven: Palestinian woman political participation and the democratic change Process in Palestine.

Section Eight: Historical background and development of Palestinian woman political participation.

Section Nine: A field survey about Palestinian woman involvement in political action.

Section Ten: Palestinian woman movement and political participation through elections.

Section Eleven: Ministry of Woman Affairs Plan for more active Palestinian woman political participation

Conclusion, results, inductions and recommendations.

Viewpoints about Woman and Political Participation


Women’s political participation encompasses a wide range of actions and strategies. It includes voting and voter education, candidacy in national and local elections, lending support to candidates who carry gender-sensitive agenda, campaigning against those who are have policies that are ‘anti-women’s rights’, and advocating for the integration of a women’s rights agenda in the platforms of candidates and parties.

Political participation strategies include mechanisms that enhance women’s political participation. Examples of these are gender quotas that allot 30 to 50 percent of decision-making positions for women; gender mainstreaming strategies that promote a culture of gender sensitivity in government; national machineries for women, which have the primary role of leading and monitoring gender mainstreaming strategies of governments; gender or women’s budgets that allot a percentage of national budget for gender mainstreaming and affirmative action for women’s advancement. In legislatures of some democratic countries, women’s sectoral representatives have been appointed on terms and capacities at par with elected representatives. A more recent mechanism that provides a leeway for women’s political participation is the party list system where women’s groups can bid for seats in the legislature.


Quota systems have significantly increased women’s participation and representation in both elective and appointive political decision-making positions. Quotas have been viewed as one of the most effective affirmative actions in increasing women’s political participation. There are now 77 countries with constitutional, electoral or political party quotas for women. In countries where women’s issues had always been relegated to least priority, the increase in number of women in decision-making positions helps put women’s agendas at a higher priority level. The visibility of women leaders gives a higher profile to women’s rights in general. Quotas for women in politics make possible changes in attitudes about women’s roles and abilities such that they open up more education, work and other opportunities for women.

Gender mainstreaming and gender budgets

Gender mainstreaming efforts ‘mainstream’ or integrate gender perspectives and the goal of gender equality in government policy-making, planning, implementation, and evaluation. This makes government more efficient in serving the needs of its citizens by ensuring that even seemingly neutral policies and programs take into account the women’s concerns and needs right at the onset. Moreover, gender mainstreaming efforts have also produced strategies and tools for analysis and evaluation, e.g., gender data, sex-disaggregated statistics, that mainstreams race, class, ethnicity and other concerns into government policy and planning. This benefits not only women but also other marginalized sectors that women also belong to.

Along with gender mainstreaming efforts, gender budgets have been a method of determining the extent to which government expenditure have detracted from or have come nearer to the goal of gender equality. A gender budget is not a separate budget for women, but rather a tool that analyses budget allocations, public spending and taxation from a gender lens and can be subsequently used to advocate for reallocation of budgets to better respond to women’s priorities. Gender budgets have been instrumental in increasing government expenditures in social services that benefit mostly women and children, and in steering government priorities towards the ‘care’ economy such as health and nutrition, education and other family and community services. In some countries, gender budgets expose areas where government policy has been weak, e.g., in productive sectors such as in agriculture and industry. Lastly, gender budgets also trace where most expenditures have been spent, often exposing corruption and under-funded social services. Overall, gender budgets make a significant contribution in enhancing gender mainstreaming strategies. (Source: Colleen Lowe Morna, Gender Budgeting: Myths and Realities, October 2000).

However, feminists have argued that gender mainstreaming and budgets are not ends themselves but are simply tools for achieving gender equality. The weaknesses in the use of these tools have been evident when gender efforts and budgets are spent mostly on activities that are women-identified or do not have anything to do with women’s needs. An example of this is spending the gender budget on day care centers that, although important, do not really change women’s subordinate status in society but merely aid women in performing the gender role of child care. Some government agencies spend the budget on skills training on cosmetology and dancing lessons. Livelihood projects for women such as raising livestock have also been frequently classified under gender budgets. Although livelihood projects may actually help women contribute to the family income, they also add to women’s multiple tasks in the home because housework is not shared with the men. In turn, women become more burdened with home tasks and are prevented from participating in public and political life. In worst case scenarios, gender budgets do not reach the women and men at all but are pocketed away by corrupt politicians.

Legislative advocacy and training to win elections

Women have been able to participate in political decision-making through legislative advocacy by drafting and proposing laws that, in turn, are coursed into the formal lawmaking process through elected representatives in the legislature. Women intervene in the law-making process by gathering mass support for or campaigning against a proposed law, and advocating amendments to or repeal of an existing law.

Especially at the level of local elections, non-governmental women’s groups have pursued ‘winnability’ training for women who intend to run for public office. Among women officials and advocates, women’s groups have also been conducting training on lawmaking, e.g., how to draft an ordinance informed by women’s realities and needs.

Women’s agenda

Aside from campaigns for balanced gender representation in political decision-making positions, an integral part of the core of strategies for women’s political participation is building women’s agendas for change.

Women’s political leadership should further be strengthened in terms of realizing the agenda of people-centered and sustainable development; and, working towards the elimination -in law and in reality- of discriminations based on gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, caste, descent, work, lifestyle, appearance, age and others. Women political leaders, few or many they may be, can only make a difference if they are able to translate their political power into political, social, economic and cultural advancement of women and other marginalized groups.

Women who have been able to access formal political power are faced with multiple challenges. These challenges include pursuing a people-centered sustainable development in the context of the current trend of globalization that has resulted in the increased influence of free market forces and the accompanying loss of autonomy of the State. Increasing debt, poverty and skewed distribution of wealth remain challenges for many countries coupled with Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) and the agenda of economic liberalization pushed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. SAPs have resulted in the forced reduction of basic social services as well as for government expenditures in general, including national machineries and programs for women.

Women political leaders have to overcome identity politics, local elite politics and control by family dynasties, which in many developing countries have been the same forces that have allowed women to access positions of political power in the first place. Women are also faced with the challenge of tearing down cultural restrictions on how women should look, speak and act while, at the same time, transforming the political culture into a genuinely gender-fair environment. A gender-fair environment estimates women’s capabilities not on how well they imitate ‘male-speak’ or how well they compete but on their capacity for collaboration, vision and leadership. Moreover, there is also the continuous need to resist and fight against the propensity of the state to homogenize its citizens. The state’s propensity for homogenization is made apparent through policies and standards that claim equality in application but discriminate and marginalize in reality.

Aside from increasing women’s access to decision-making positions in government, enhancing women’s capabilities in implementing international mechanisms and instruments on women’s rights at the national and local levels should continuously be pursued. International instruments that are in place, particularly the opportunities provided by the Beijing Platform for Action(BPFA) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) should be maximized; strategies to implement them such as advocacy, policy reforms, special measures and affirmative actions, accountability and evaluations systems, and other means should be explored. Women in government should continue to invest on sharing of strategies and information resources, as well as forming networks and strengthening linkages with other women in government and non-government women’s groups and experts. They should continue to study the increasing complexities in politics and economies brought about by globalization. At the national and local levels, understanding and coming up with concrete ways to resist and fight against ‘dirty’ or corrupt politics is one of the biggest challenges for women who carry a feminist agenda.

Still a few  women participate in political life

While women’s global activism, especially at the level of the United Nations, has instituted mechanisms for increased representation of women in politics, the assessment made by the United Nations Development Program for the Beijing Plus Five verifies that women are still greatly under-represented in political and bureaucratic posts around the world. The UNDP reported that women “are nowhere near half of the decision-making structures. The threshold of 30 percent advocated by the UNDP Human Development Report, as a prelude to the 50 percent is still a dream for most women” (UNDP, 1999). The Inter-Parliamentary Union’s monitor pegs at 15.2 percent the total number of women in parliaments. Thus, campaigns for balanced gender representation in government such as the 50/50 Campaign of the Women’s Environmental and Development Organization remain one of the most strategic moves to increase women’s political participation.

Freedoms and rights

To participate in the political processes, women need to enjoy the full exercise of their civil and political rights. Democratic freedoms such as expression, media, opinion, peaceful assembly, association, and others are necessary vehicles for women’s full political participation. In countries where the freedom of association is limited, women find themselves under constant surveillance and sometimes under threat by their own governments. In countries where religion and culture impose numerous social restrictions and impinge on state laws, women experience more difficulties in accessing education and engaging in the public political space. The fulfillment of basic survival and social needs, economic independence, and freedom from family and community violence are equally crucial requirements in women’s realization of their political potentials.

Human Rights Mechanisms

Women’s activism at the global arena has resulted in various strategic documents and instruments that ensure and promote women’s political participation.

The 1985 Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies and the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action are strategic instruments that laid down the groundwork for women’s political empowerment. The Nairobi Strategies guided governments in ensuring women’s equal participation in all national and local legislative bodies. It also called for equity in the appointment, election and promotion to high-level posts in the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Beijing Platform for Action calls on governments, national bodies, the private sector, political parties, trade unions, employers’ organizations, research and academic institutions, subregional and regional bodies and non-governmental and international organizations to implement “measures to ensure women’s equal access to, and full participation in, power structures and decision-making” and “increase women’s capacity to participate in decision-making and leadership”.

Measures recommended for governments include: the establishment of “the goal of gender balance” in all government bodies and committees; taking measures to encourage political parties to also pursue the same; protecting and promoting “equal rights of women and men to engage in political activities and to freedom of association;” monitoring progress on the representation of women; and, supporting non-government and research institutes’ studies on women political participation. Part of the advocacy for balanced representation is the recognition and promotion of shared work and parental responsibilities between women and men.

The Convention on the Elimination All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is an important international treaty that upholds the importance of women’s involvement in the political machinery of State Parties. The United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women reports that as of September 30, 2003, 174 countries or 90 percent of the members of the United Nations have become party to the Convention.

Articles 2 to 4 of the CEDAW call on State Parties to actively pursue the elimination of discrimination in women’s political participation through legal and temporary special measures and affirmative action. An example of a special measure to speed up achievement of de facto equality are quotas for women’s seats in the legislative, executive or the judiciary branches of government.

Article 7 of the CEDAW instructs State Parties to “take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country…”. It ensures women, “on equal terms with men, the right:

(a) To vote in all elections and public referenda and to be eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies;

(b) To participate in the formulation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government; and,

(c) To participate in non-governmental organisations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country.”

Article 8 brings women’s political rights to the international arena. It instructs State Parties to “take all appropriate measures to ensure to women, on equal terms with men and without any discrimination, the opportunity to represent their Governments at the international level and to participate in the work of international organisations.”

The CEDAW Committee’s General Recommendation 23 on Women in Political and Public Lifeprovides overviews on women’s political and public lives and needs in various parts of the world. Importantly, it clarifies how CEDAW provisions on women’s political participation and priority measures can be implemented at the national/local and international levels.

The international bill of human rights -the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR),International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)- all work together to provide the foundations for women’s right to political participation.

Facts and Figures

  • In 2002, women still accounted for only about 14 percent of members of parliament worldwide. (BBC News through Online Women in Politics)
  • Out of over 180 countries, 14 are headed by women, six women are vice presidents. (Women’s Learning Partnerships, 2002)
  • With 48.8 percent of seats won by women in the recent parliamentary elections, Rwanda became the country that has the most number of women parliamentarians in the world. Currently, women in Sweden hold 45.3 percent of seats in parliament, Denmark with 38 percent, Finland with 37.5 percent, and The Netherlands with 36.7 percent. (The Guardian, October 2003)
  • Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Netherlands and Germany had all reached the 30% goal of parliamentary seats taken by women by the end of 2002 along with Argentina, Costa Rica, South Africa and Mozambique. (BBC News through Online Women in Politics)
  • In May 2003, Qatar appointed Sheikha bint Ahmed Al-Mahmud as the state’s first woman cabinet minister. The appointment followed an April 29 referendum in which Qataris overwhelmingly approved a written constitution recognising a woman’s right to vote and run for office. (DAWN Internet newspaper, May 2003)
  • The proportion of women parliamentarians in the United States is 14 percent, France 11.8 percent and Japan 10 percent. In Rwanda, women compose 48.8 percent, and in Uganda 24.7 percent.
  • Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates do not give women the right to vote or stand for election.
  • 7 percent of the world’s total cabinet ministers are women. Women ministers remain concentrated in social areas (14 percent) compared to legal (9.4 percent), economic (4.1 percent), political affairs (3.4 percent), and the executive (3.9 percent).
  • There are 9 women ambassadors to the United Nations. They are from Finland, Guinea, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Somalia, and Turkmenistan.
  • In the United Nations system, women hold 9 percent of the top management jobs and 21 percent of senior management positions, but 48 percent of the junior professional civil service slots.
  • In 1893, New Zealand became the first nation to grant women full voting rights.
  • Among the countries in the developing world that were the earliest to grant women the right to vote were: Albania (1920), Mongolia (1924), Ecuador (1929), Turkey (1930) and Sri Lanka (1931).
  • Some of the latest countries to grant women suffrage are: Switzerland (1971), Iraq (1980), Namibia (1989), South Africa – black population (1994).
  • Some countries still do not have universal suffrage. Among them are Brunei Darussalam, Kuwait, Sultanate of Oman, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.
  • Among the developing nations which have not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) are: Bahrain, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sultanate of Oman, Syrian Arab Republic, United Arab Emirates.
  • The United States is the only industrialized nation that has not ratified CEDAW.

Primary source: Online Women: Statistics, Online Women in Politics


“Meeting on Women and Political Participation: 21st Century Challenges,” United Nations Development Programme, 24-26 March 1999, New Delhi, India

Gender Mainstreaming: Competitiveness and Growth, Nordic Council of Ministers/ OECD, November 23-24, 2000…

Monitoring The Implementation Of The Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies For The Advancement Of Women, Commission on the Status of Women, Thirty-ninth session, New York, 15 March-4 April 1995

Facts and figures on women’s participation in politics, governance, and decision-making, Online Women in Politics

WLP’s Political Participation and Economic Facts and Figures, 2002

The CEDAW Convention, International Women’s Rights Action Watch-Asia Pacific

“Qatar gets first woman minister,” DAWN Internet, May 7, 2003

IPU Study No. 28, 1997, “Men and Women in Politics: Democracy Still in the Making”

Gender Budgeting: Myths And Realities, by Colleen Lowe Morna, Director, Gender Links Associates, at The 25 Years International Women’s Politics Workshop, Bonn, October 13 to 14, 2000


Women Organizing in the Malaysian Socio-cultural and Political Environment, by Cecilia Ng, Director, Women’s Development Collective (WDC) (October 2003)

An Interview with Hanadi Loubani, founding member of Women for Palestine, a feminist, anti-racist Palestinian solidarity group. (November 2003)


Palestinian Municipal Elections Stir the Democratic Bones
by Atef Saad

(A Comment on  first and second rounds of Municipal elections  held in the Palestinian Territories in   Dec 2004 and in March 2005)

ON A wintry afternoon in the center of Bidya, a town some 15 km southwest of Nablus, Manar Al Dalou, 16, and her six siblings are trying to attract the attention of passersby.

Not everyone accepts the leaflets the seven are proffering, but it doesn’t dishearten the youngsters. Indeed, Manar takes much pride in her work. And who can blame her? She’s campaigning for her mother Rihab, who is standing in the local elections.

“I am too young to vote,” Manar says, indicating that if she weren’t she would of course vote for Rihab. “My mother’s political platform has many things that our town needs such as children’s centers and clinics, an ambulance and a maternity center. I hope she wins.”

On December 23, the first phase of the local elections begins. Twenty-six municipalities in the West Bank are to choose their local councilors, followed later by ten municipalities in the Gaza Strip. In total, some 1,200 people will be contesting 306 seats. 1,092 police officers are due to be stationed at polling stations to ensure an orderly process. These are the first large-scale elections since the passing of late President Yasser Arafat on November 11 and come 16 days before the presidential elections.

The municipal elections, however, are much more fiercely contested than the presidential elections. This is mainly due to the very active participation of Hamas, who see local elections as one of the prime ways to extend their influence over the Palestinian political scene. But the local elections have also thrown up other interesting scenarios, among them the dynamic that arises when small-town and rural traditions pit tribal loyalties against political affiliations, and the fact that never before have so many women contested for seats.

Clash of the giants

On the political level, everyone will be looking at the performance of Hamas in these elections. Having boycotted the presidential elections and still staying their hand on Legislative Council elections, the municipal elections offers Hamas its only available gauge of popularity vis-à-vis its main rival Fateh.

Mohammed Ghazal, member of Hamas’ politburo in the West Bank, says the movement sees the local elections as particularly important because they “reflect the people’s choice of leadership, approach and policies that they think should run their everyday affairs.”

Hamas is fielding candidates in all constituencies, and has already seen their popularity boosted when four Hamas candidates from the town of Thahriyeh in the Hebron district were arrested by Israeli troops.

Jamal Shobaki, local government minister and head of the higher council for local elections, called the arrests “interference in the election process” and warned that if Israel continues with such harassment, the process may be halted altogether. One Hamas activist called the arrests “intentional political assassination.”

Another, however, saw the potential in them. Falasteen Khatib, 28, a teacher and a Hamas-affiliated candidate from the same town told the Israeli daily Haaretz on December 12 that, “voters will vote for the four imprisoned candidates because their arrest by Israeli authorities gives them credibility.”

And while Hamas has complained about certain election procedures and gerrymandering, it has also been very careful to play by the rules. Regardless of election results, said Ghazal, “we will accept and respect the process.”

Keeping it in the family
In Beit Fourik, just outside Nablus, the competition is fierce. Beit Fourik is a town of some 11,000 people. Fifty-six candidates have officially registered for elections and are contesting 11 seats. Walls, electricity and phone poles, trucks, cars and tractors are plastered with candidates’ posters. Supporters of this or that candidate are distributing their candidates’ CVs, summaries of their political platforms and promoting their candidates’ electoral promises.

Sometimes they promote too hard. One Beit Fourik resident, who had been following the hullabaloo carefully, sarcastically commented on the many promises being made by one Fateh candidate. “We are talking about improving the scarce services offered to the residents, but what I am hearing are dreams and aspirations that probably need a budget for a country the size of France.”

Mufida Hanani, the 26-year-old candidate in question, shot straight back at him. “Why should we not dream about respectable services?” she said. “Aren’t we worthy of them after all the suffering and sacrifice we have endured?”

Mufida was standing among a small group of young men and women distributing plastic buttons with a picture of Arafat embossed on one side. The other side was pasted with a picture of Khalil Al Wazir (Abu Jihad), the PLOcommander assassinated by Israeli forces in April 1988 in his home in Tunis.

When asked why she used such prominent leaders in her campaign, Mufida said, “they are our leaders and we want to remind voters of our identity and our aspirations.”

But identity can sometimes prove problematic. Tribal and familial loyalties are very strong, and many candidates are chosen to run by their respective families, in a kind of primary, before making their candidacy public.

Atef Hanani, a former Beit Fourik mayor, is one of the frontrunners, partly because of the prominence of his extended family. Nevertheless, he went through the “tribal primary” as well, with the extended family first meeting to see who among them would nominate themselves. Those who put themselves forward would canvass other family members for their support until another meeting was held in which a vote was held to decide who would best represent the family.

The political parties cannot ignore the tribal system but nor can they surrender to it. Beit Fourik candidate Abdel Baset Hanani, who represents the leftist PFLP, says his party hopes to “raise the level of political and factional action in the town,” as opposed to the familial. The Hamas candidates pay even less heed to tribalism in the town focusing instead their efforts on the town’s mosque. Other parties try not to reveal the factional affiliations of their candidates so they do not provoke their extended families.

A woman’s touch
One hundred-and-fifty-two of the candidates running are women, an unprecedented level of female participation.

“This is a historical event in society because it is happening for the first time,” Itaf Yousef, a 47-year-old journalist told the Palestine Report. “In the past, women participated mainly as voters, not as candidates.”

Yousef, who works for the Women’s Affairs Team, a pressure group that lobbies for greater female participation in the democratic process, says she hopes these elections will turn out to be a success for women in general.

“If women are able to fend well for themselves in the local elections, this will have a positive impact on the other stages of the process in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank constituencies. It will also positively impact the upcoming Legislative Council elections. This is very encouraging. It is vital that Palestinian women have a more active role in political life. We are half the nation,” Yousef said, getting into her stride.

The percentage of women who nominated themselves for local elections spiked after the PLC last month raised the women’s quota in both local and legislative councils. According to figures from the Women’s Affairs Team the quota decision appears to have had a marked effect on women’s attendance. Before the ratification, the number of female candidates was 56. After the quota was ratified, “100 women came and registered in one day,” said Yousef.

The women’s quota also gained the support of many men. But Nadia Hamdan, a women’s activist and writer on the subject of Palestinian women’s political participation warns of overstating the “democratization and progressiveness of women” in local council elections.

“We should not overlook the fact that a number of women were urged to participate by their husbands who belong to parties or factions for ulterior motives. Their support is more to strengthen their own influence and power in these councils than it is from any conviction that women should play any important role in the political and social decision-making process.”

Nonetheless, Hamdan says that any progress is good. “We should not underestimate the importance of women participating. This will no doubt be a rich experience for them, from which the whole society will eventually benefit.”

Meanwhile, back in Bidya, Manar is ready to go home after a long day’s campaigning and leaflet distribution. Her mother’s political program covers all the customary “female” issues: social services, health, child development and the environment. But Rihab Al Dalou, an employee of a World Vision project, also shows political savvy of the kind that resonates with voters. On the front page of her brochure is a picture of the Aqsa Mosque and a map of historical Palestine. -Published December 22, 2004©Palestine Report.

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عدم الإساءة للكاتب أو للأشخاص أو للمقدسات أو مهاجمة الأديان أو الذات الالهية. والابتعاد عن التحريض الطائفي والعنصري والشتائم.

ان كل ما يندرج ضمن تعليقات القرّاء لا يعبّر بأي شكل من الأشكال عن آراء اسرة الاستاذ دكتور كمال الأسطل :: الموقع العلمي- Prof. Dr. Kamal Al-Astal website الالكترونية وهي تلزم بمضمونها كاتبها حصرياً.