At last, I have a baby girl. An angel. A dream come true. How won¬derful it is to be a mother. She has become the focus of my life. I will give her all I can: love and attention, good food and education, toys, opportunities...
Opportunities? What have I done? What have I brought into this world? Another female to suffer. The challenges she will have to face ¬will she have to go through the same difficulties that I and my generation have faced?
Will she have to bear the pains of menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth? Of course she will. And what can I do to help her with those?
Will she have equal opportunities to education, development, free¬dom of choice, freedom of movement, self-expression, work, inheri¬tance? Will she enjoy equal civil rights, be equal to her brother in every way? Will she be able to choose her husband? Will she live without suf¬fering maltreatment and violence? Will she be protected by the laws prevailing in our country? Will her community treat her humanely, allow her to grow and develop healthy and free?

I talk to my baby: so many are my fears for your well-being. I hope your days will be better than mine. Women of my time have faced two forms of oppression: the Israeli Occupation and the authoritarian domination of our own patriarchal society. Both used patriarchal values to suppress women.
We suffered a great deal from the Israeli Occupation and its violation of political and human rights. The violations of women's rights by the Occupation were particularly cruel. Many women were imprisoned, many were humiliated during interrogation; they were forced to undress and threatened with rape. I know of at least two who were raped with a stick, the implication being that they were not worthy of being touched. The Occupation authorities reinforced and exploited the traditional view of the importance of a girl's "honor" (connected to her virginity) in Palestinian society, and used it against women. Many women were forced into com¬promising positions and then they or their husbands, brothers or fathers were blackmailed and forced into collaborating with the Occupation.
The Israeli Occupation continued to use patriarchal values against women to restrict their free movement. They did this by attempting to smear the reputation of women activists, increasing the existing Palestinian family control over daughters, wives and sisters.

Women and the Occupation

The Occupation played a major role in the impoverishment of women. Our economy was made almost totally dependent on the Israeli economy for our daily requirements.
The Occupation scattered families, imposing closures on towns and set¬ting up roadblocks. West Bankers and Gazans could not visit their families in East Jerusalem. Neither could they pray in the holy city of Jerusalem; even at Easter or in the holy month of Ramadan, they could not reach the Holy Sepulcher or AI-Aqsa Mosque. Now you understand why your sev¬enty-year-old grandmother could not come to visit us in Jerusalem, and why, when she got sick, we would not bring her to our home, but had to move in with her in the West Bank, risking the loss of our Jerusalem identity cards.
During the Occupation, many women miscarried after they inhaled the gas soldiers used to scatter demonstrators. Some women were killed when trying to protect their sons from the guns of Israeli soldiers. During the Intifada, women were always apprehensive when they waited for their children to come home from school; no mother was ever certain her child would come back safely. And then, schools became a luxury. For a four¬-year period during the Intifada, schools were ordered closed for a total of two school years.

The Second Struggle

But while women were sharing in this struggle for the liberation of their homeland, women had to go through another struggle towards their own liberation as human beings.
In my days, boys were privileged. Families were delighted to have more male babies; females were welcome only when the family thought they had "enough" male babies. Your grandmother had four girls, and when she was asked about the number of children she replied, four daughters. People often repeated the question, explaining they wanted to know the number of children - your mother and sisters did not count. Your great-¬aunt expressed her joy at your birth by saying, "And now your son will have a sister to iron his shirts."
When I was having you, I saw a 15-year-old Bedouin woman, who was shouted at several times, told to keep silent because her screams disturbed her doctor - who was astonished that she was screaming even though this was the third child to whom she had given birth. There are women here who are forced to marry and have children, that young.
The preferred male babies are given better health care than female babies: more attention is paid to their vaccinations, they get better food. When economic resources are scarce, they are spent on the son. In my day, women constituted more than half the society, but the number of schools for boys outnumbered those for females. The textbooks used in elementary schools portrayed women in traditional roles: the mother cooks and cleans, the father and brother read and write.
Girls who married while still students lost their right to continue their education. There were many vocational schools for boys, but few for girls, and those offered training only in traditional female skills such as embroi¬dery, hairdressing and sewing. Compulsory education was emphasized much more for boys than girls; the drop-out and truancy rates for female students were much higher. The restrictions on women's mobility restrict¬ed their access to higher education.
As mothers, women were expected to do all the housework without any help from their husbands, regardless of whether they held another job out¬side the home. There are some enlightened men who are starting to share the burden of housework and child-rearing, and I hope that you will marry one of those. I also hope that you will be able to choose your future part¬ner and will not settle for an arranged marriage.
Some brothers believe they are responsible for the "good behavior" of their sisters. There have recently been some incidents where brothers reinforced the old values of "honor killing" in order to restrict and subjugate females. If a woman is battered by her husband or father, no one will interfere. Many women have thought it their duty to obey their husbands, fathers and brothers.
Females of my generation cannot inherit equally with their brothers. Many are shamed if they insist on a share in their inheritance at all. Women's mobility is restricted by law. The Jordanian law that governs us prohibits a woman from travelling accom¬panied by her children without written approval
from her husband. She cannot even renew her passport without his written consent. If she is sin¬gle, she has to get this approval from her father, and if he is deceased, from her brother (even if he is younger).
In my days, about 14% of women worked outside their homes. Many held stereotypical "women's jobs," like teaching, nursing, secretarial and manual work. The largest number of working women were unpaid, work¬ing in agriculture and family-owned projects, where the men earned all the income, while the hard work was reserved for women. As laborers, women did the "women's jobs" of cleaning and packaging, and were always paid less, regardless of how much work they did. Women were active in unions, but they were never represented at the decision-making level.
Patriarchal values denied women their full humanity and equality in this way. Some of our Arab sisters have made progress against this oppres¬sion, but the Occupation has forced us into even weaker positions in our own society.

Women Taking Action

Palestinian women have always been active. Since the beginning of the century, they have formed associations and worked for the welfare of their community. The first political and social women's group in Palestine, the Palestinian Women's Union, was founded in Jerusalem in 1921.
The General Union of Palestinian Women played a major role in organ¬izing women under Occupation and in the Diaspora to sustain their com¬munities and uphold their families. It organized women to fight the Occupation and changed their fate in the Diaspora.
In the late 1970s, younger, politically-oriented women played a major role in the organization of the popular struggle during the Intifada as well as in the establishment of cooperatives, training centers and kindergartens.
In 1987, the uprising began. Women demonstrated, wrote pamphlets, and many joined the military struggle for the liberation of their homeland. For eight months, during the first two years of the Intifada, when all the male leaders were imprisoned, one woman took on the lead role, writing the pamphlets of the Unified National Leadership and leading the biggest political faction. During the national uprising, the need to empower women became more urgent. It became clear that enhancing women's political and social power required a transformation of society.
After the beginning of negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis, women started to realize that this was the time to win more rights within the Palestinian society, as they saw a new Palestinian enti¬ty being shaped. Within the different political groups, women started to realize that women's issues were not receiving enough attention and that they were not given the access to decision-making positions to which they were entitled.
Many women played a vital role in the struggle for the liberation of our homeland. All through their long struggle, they did not raise the issue of equal rights with men.
Palestinian women could not expect anything from the Israelis, but they have high expectations of the Palestinian National Authority. It must be sensitive to human rights, including women's rights. The liberation of half the society will enable the community to better fight the Occupation and build a free society.
Several women's organizations have worked together to increase the participation of women in decision-making, towards the creation of legis¬lation and policies that are gender-sensitive. These days, they are working towards elections, and defining women's agenda. They are lobbying for more representation of women in the different political groups and in all ministries of the Palestinian National Authority.
Palestinian women's institutions are trying to make life easier for you.
Many women are trying to achieve more rights for women in all spheres of society. I pray they will succeed and pave the road for a brighter future for you and your sisters. The improvement in your life will also enrich and ful¬fill the life of your brother, who will learn to see you as equal in dignity and abilities. Your brother and your father must recognize that women are half of humankind, and that their lives will be easier when women are accepted as equal.
You, my daughter, are the future of Palestine. I have this promise for you: I have brought you into this world, and it is my responsibility to see that you live well, and that you receive your full rights as an equal human being, that you are not discriminated against, that you live as a free Palestinian and a free woman.

I dedicate this humble project to all the women martyrs of the Occupation and social oppression, and in particular to my beloved mother and hus¬band, the two people in my life who do not cease to offer endless love and support, and also to the wonderful members of the Women's Affairs Technical Committee for their continued struggle and determination for equality in the Palestinian community.