The first in a series of articles capturing the voices of women fighting for women’s rights in Palestine
A brief recent history of the women’s rights movement from Amal Al-Jubeh, Director of the Women’s Centre for legal aid and counselling:
In 1948, when our land was first divided by the Israelis, we suddenly had a far greater need for women in the public sphere. Women were needed to support their families financially and entered an up to then unfamiliar sphere: work. This had a fundamental impact on their role within society demanding women to be hears and respected for their contribution. Women’s rights were not widely represented, but with the changes women began to have freedom to leave the home without a guardian, freedom to work and access to their own salary. This came to an abrupt end with the first Intifada in 1987. Political Islam rode on the coat tails of unrest into our society, our culture and our homes.
Since 1987 until today, we have seen a radical regression in women’s rights. Women have become more conservatively dressed, less able to control their own finances, less able to work outside of the home and less able to claim their rights in court. Society has become increasingly oppressive. Amal explains that with this oppression so women began to fight and build women’s organisations, such as her own. The Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling was established in 1992, very soon after the arrival of Islamism in Palestine.
The women’s movement began to organise itself and multiple organisations formed a powerful coalition to push for change (including ADWAR, another partner of Become The Voice). With women’s struggle for positive changes, came push back from the Islamist groups. Amal explained how these Islamist groups, which include Hizb-ut-Tahreer, a group that is active in the UK, have lead sustained and at times frightening campaigns against her and others like her. Ama’ describes one such occasion:
‘Hizb-ut-Tahreer had been speaking about our organisation in the mosques. They have been saying that women’s organisations are a Western imposed idea and that we have been indoctrinated by the West.
When I conducted a lecture on family law in a hotel in Hebron, it sparked huge opposition against my family and me. They contacted older male members of my family and my husband to say I was a bad woman, that my husband should divorce me and that my organisation needs to be closed down.’
Abdullah, a colleague of Aman’s and lawyer added:
‘This April I was delivering a workshop with Sharek youth on women’s rights and Hizb Ut-Thareer found out about it. They stormed into my session and demanded I segregate the class, separating young women from young men. I told them forcefully to leave and thankfully it was okay, but this is their ambition to destroy our work and prevent us from achieving equality between men and women.’
Sadly these incidents are not anything new for a young Brit, such as myself, to learn of. Issues of segregation, increasingly conservative dress, the bullying and intimidation of human rights organisations are rife in the UK. I put to them that we had an incident of forced segregation in one of our universities in London and that we see organisations such as Faith Matters, Tell Mama and Inspire continuously threatened and harassed for pushing against Islamism and for human rights. They were shocked to hear that Islamist organisations, such as Hizb Ut-Tahreer had a grip on our society. They were appalled to hear that such groups use Palestine as a cause to radicalise Muslims and recruit them for their extremist organisations.
Amal had this to say:
‘Islam is not political. We do not want your Islamism. We do not want the conflict in Palestine to be used as a religious tool, it is a political battle not a religious one. Leave our Palestine alone and leave our Islam alone.’
Amal hopes, like many other female Palestinians, that they will rediscover their progressive society and will overcome the societal oppression created by Islamism. They hope that with greater state stability, society will be able to better prioritise women’s rights.
I can not help but think: ‘For shame London, we have no conflict, no instability yet we cower in the face of Islamism.’