A crucial stage within any ‘Become The Voice’ programme is the ‘What Matters?’ process where the team (in this case, Charlotte) gets to know human rights issues within the community, first hand:
Training in Gender Roles with IPPF
Continuing the ‘What Matters?’ stage of #BTVPalestine I joined a large mixed group of young Palestinian’s at the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
The group have met to challenge their concepts of gender roles and to gain awareness of the ways traditional gender roles are harming their society.
Palestine is a signatory to the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
‘States Parties shall take all appropriate measures:
- To modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women…’
This means Palestine agreed to work towards achieving a more balanced view, but some of the old customs and traditions that are counter to women’s rights are still prevalent within the community.
Muhammad, director of PFPPA (Palestinian Family Planned Parenthood Association) in Hebron reflected: ‘We were actually making progress against this repressive culture; we had far less women wearing hijab and even women working in physical labour jobs but not now.
‘We have a problem with political Islam; during the first Intifada in 1987 instability and lack of political leadership allowed for political Islam to enter.’
Rateeba, who works for the Sharek youth forum and alongside the UN, added:
‘This is not my Islam. Do they think we were not Muslim before they arrived? They arrived so fast and influenced our communities so quickly, we now have a huge problem pushing against their version of Islam and the negative effect it is having on our society: Early marriages, hijabs being worn by children and forced on women, women staying in the home and our laws and politics becoming controlled by religion. This is not our Islam, it is the brotherhood.’
Rateeba and Muhammed are not the only ones who are desperate for change, but the session does not go without Islamist ideas being raised. The group look at images of men and women in Western media. General comments are exchanged: ‘Media is painting women as useful for being attractive only.’ I must admit, this is a narrative I am accustomed to and find myself nodding along. The trainers strongly oppose the group’s opinion: ‘The men are also depicted as attractive and in some images are topless, no?’ ‘Does this mean they are only useful for sex?’ I had not considered that – The trainer then goes on to unpick the underlying modesty culture controlling women here in Hebron.
Rateeba tells me: ‘My mother fights for women’s rights too, and sometimes she tells me I need to change the way I am dressing. I ask why? I am wearing your clothes! She replies ‘yes, the clothes I wore 40 years ago but not now, it is not acceptable now.’
The will to push backagainst repressive political Islam is palpable and I find myself moved to tears at the struggle of women over here. It is tragic that women who had begun to achieve equality here, who were once leaders here, liberated and empowered, are now repressed and undermined with the global rise of Islamism. Moreover, whilst Palestine is under occupation and at war, it becomes increasingly difficult to muster the resources to tackle such social oppressions.
This young Palistinian woman wrote of how she wants to be able to dress freely, to choose her partner, to work in positions of political power, to sing and even to smoke.
They seem to want to find a way to redefine their culture and faith in a way that is progressive and allowing for equality between the sexes.
The opposition to progress is an oppressive, unwanted Islamist presence and a distracted political regime. Interestingly, despite a session heavily criticising religious ideas affecting local communities, there is no cry of ‘Islamophobia’, no cry of ‘this is our religion you cannot criticise.’ – Instead, these young Muslims try to find a way to progress and understand their religion and culture together. All striving toward a progressive and equal society, accepting the diverse range of opinions in the room and uniting under the same purpose.
Bringing it home – Brotherhood ideology in the UK
I wonder whether it may in fact be easier to push against Islamism here than in the UK and I am now more concerned than ever about the increasing grip the brotherhood ideology has on our country. Even I dress more conservatively in my little town of Leyton in East London, as the social pressure is forever mounting. Recently there was an incident in the London borough of Newham, a primary school was harassed for trying to prevent children under the age of 8 from wearing the hijab in school- ‘Islamaphobe’ they cried.
Islamaphobe? Not a concept understood here in Palestine.
I am deeply moved by this session with IPPF and thankful to all the participants and trainers to let me observe, take part in and be challenged by their own cultural struggles. This session has been an eye-opener and I will be reflecting on it a lot in the coming months.