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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
Palestinian women's institutions are trying to make life easier for
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
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