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Palestine on Edge


Are the Rights of Palestinian Women Protected by the PA?

January 28th 2012

Palestine Topics - PLO Flags

Discrimination against women is common in Palestinian society and institutionalized by Palestinian authorities in the territories, particularly in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Physical violence, including spousal abuse, employment prejudice and education inequities are just some of the ways that Palestinian women are mistreated on a daily basis. Like the abuse of women throughout the Arab and Muslim world, however, the media, human rights organizations and even women’s rights groups have paid little attention to these violations of human rights.

In January 2012, women employees at the Palestinian Women’s Affairs Ministry began a “hunger strike till death” to protest harassment and mistreatment of women by their own leadership. “The situation is [so] grave,” one striker said, “[that] women have received threats to be shot in their legs … [or] not to let [into] their offices.”

Such abuse, though, is only the tip of the iceberg.

In 2007, two in five women in Gaza reported being subjected to violence and, in 2009, the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights reported nine women had been murdered in honor killings in the Palestinian Territories. In 2009, 52 percent of Gazan women faced regular physical violence and 14 percent were victims of sexual violence; 37 percent of women in the Gaza Strip said domestic violence is the primary safety problem facing girls and young women.

Legally, women are supposed to be protected by Palestinian law, but their rights are still severely infringed. Rape, for instance, is illegal—and punishable with up to fifteen years in jail—but the law does not cover spousal rape and abuse. Likewise, assault and battery are crimes under Palestinian Authority law, but rarely applied to cases of domestic violence. Moreover, Muslims in the West Bank and Gaza are governed by Shariah law when it comes to marriage, but few women are actually accorded their proper rights under these laws.

In Gaza, Hamas officials prohibit all mixing of men and women in public while premarital sex and other “ethical crimes” are punishable by incarceration. The “morality police” punish women for dressing “inappropriately” or riding motorcycles. In 2010, Hamas banned women from smoking water pipes in public cafes. Female university students regularly report discrimination by university administrators, professors, and their male peers.

Women’s participation in the workforce in Gaza is approximately 14 percent, compared to 67 percent for women in the West Bank. Cultural restrictions and traditional stereotypes continue to hinder women’s workforce participation, especially in professions such as journalism, where female reporters are often relegated to covering mundane topics, if they are allowed to report on anything at all. In March 2011, a handful of Palestinian female journalists complained that they had been beaten and tortured by Hamas security forces in Gaza, just before Hamas raided media offices in Gaza, including those of CNN and Reuters, and confiscated equipment and documents.

Perhaps the most reprehensible abuse of women is their use as human shields by Hamas. During Operation Cast Lead, a number of incidents occurred where Hamas terrorists used women to protect themselves and military sites.

“Where women are educated and empowered,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said, “economies are more productive and strong. Where women are fully represented, societies are more peaceful and stable.”

The mistreatment of women in the Palestinian Authority should be high on the agenda of human rights organizations as well as politicians interested in Middle East peace. Ensuring the rights of Palestinian women will help make the PA economy stronger, the society more just, and the conditions for peace with Israel more favorable.

Cutting Edge commentator Mitchell Bard is the Director of AICE and the Jewish Virtual Library. His latest books are The Arab Lobby; Will Israel Survive?; and 48 Hours of Kristallnacht: Night of Destruction, Dawn of the Holocaust.

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