Prepared by Women Centre for Legal Aid and counselling
The report is a reflection of the legal and social status of Palestinian women, using CEDAW as a point of reference. The report attempts to assess progress made towards the elimination of discrimination against women over the past several years. It also highlights existing gaps that hinder women from attaining equality and social justice within Palestinian society, and suggests, at the end of each subject section, some recommendations for the full implementation of CEDAW-standard rights.
These will form the basis of future lobbying and advocacy efforts at both the legislative and executive levels of government, as well as public awareness raising campaigns.
Because the report was prepared prior to the beginning of the second Palestinian Intifada, in September 2000, it thus does not take into consideration the political changes since then and their direct or indirect impact on Palestinian women.
Initiated by the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC), the following gap analysis report was the result of over two years of concerted efforts of a number of Palestinian non-governmental organisations, including human rights and women’s rights organisations, as well as various Palestinian governmental institutions. The report is a reflection of the legal and social status of Palestinian women, using CEDAW as a point of reference. The report attempts to assess progress made towards the elimination of discrimination against women over the past several years. It also highlights existing gaps that hinder women from attaining equality and social justice within Palestinian society, and suggests, at the end of each subject section, some recommendations for the full implementation of CEDAW-standard rights.
These will form the basis of future lobbying and advocacy efforts at both the legislative and executive levels of government, as well as public awareness raising campaigns.
With the advent of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), as a result of the Oslo Accords of 1993, and the transfer of limited sovereignty to the Palestinian leadership, Palestinian society entered into a new and significant phase of its history. Following the 1996 general elections, the first ever in Palestine, and the transmission of legislative and executive powers to the Palestinians, the PNA was required to take steps towards building a Palestinian society founded on democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
Although this report is based on CEDAW, and is prepared in line with the criteria established by the CEDAW Committee for Writing Reports, it is still premature to treat as an ‘official’ report, given the absence of a sovereign, internationally-recognised Palestinian state.
The PNA is not legally bound to sign or ratify any international instrument, including CEDAW. Neither is the PNA requested to submit any of these reports to the international committees mandated to monitor compliance with these instruments. Equally true, Palestinian women’s rights and human rights organisations are not expected to submit alternative or parallel reports to international human rights monitoring bodies.
As such, the writing of this gap analysis report should be perceived as a learning process both for Palestinian NGOs and GOs, in the preparation of both official and parallel reports to international bodies.
Despite the inability of the PNA to sign and ratify international instruments of human rights, the PNA has unilaterally committed itself to abiding by the instruments of international law. Article (10) of the Palestinian Draft Basic Law states that "human rights and fundamental freedoms must be respected and protected and the PNA will work without delay to become party to international instruments for the protection of human rights." To translate this commitment into a legally binding obligation requires efforts towards the future ratification of international instruments without reservations, particularly CEDAW. In our opinion, this is critical in view of the experiences of the eleven Arab state parties to the convention, all of whom signed and ratified CEDAW with a number of reservations.
As Palestinian human rights and women activists, we are committed to struggle for our future state to be the first in the Arab world to adopt CEDAW without reservations.
Besides the useful learning process of writing reports to international monitoring bodies, the process of writing and preparing this report has led to achieving the following:
1. A gap analysis report of the current situation of Palestinian women within the existing laws, legislation and policies.
2. A contribution to women’s efforts in building contacts with interested and influential decision-makers within Palestinian ministries and with members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Such contacts has established the groundwork for future lobbying efforts for the adoption of laws and policies based on equality and non-discrimination.
3. Gender sensitisation and the dissemination of information about CEDAW and relevant mechanisms for the protection of women’s rights. Such efforts targeted decision-makers, legislators, the NGO and GO community as well as society as a whole.
4. Contributed to the assessment of future needs within the Palestinian decision-making bodies for the future implementation of policies and/or the adoption of laws that are consistent with CEDAW.
5. Encouraged networking and coordination on issues of women’s human rights between the Palestinian NGO community and the various Palestinian ministries and governmental institutions.
About the Report:
This report examines the status of Palestinian women living in the Palestinian territories under the authority of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) since 1994. It covers both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and focusses on issues related to the powers and responsibilities entrusted with the Palestinian authorities.
Despite our position, consistent with international law, that East Jerusalem is part of the West Bank and is part of the territories occupied by Israeli in 1967, this report does not consider in any great detail the legal and social status of women therein, as they have fallen under de facto Israeli sovereignty. Some of the jurisdictional complications are highlighted throughout the report, particularly in the way they negatively impact on women.
Because the report was prepared prior to the beginning of the second Palestinian Intifada, in September 2000, it thus does not take into consideration the political changes since then and their direct or indirect impact on Palestinian women.
The report is organised in six parts, and was developed through teamwork efforts. Provisions of CEDAW were categorised under the six major topics, agreed upon by those who contributed to the production of the report.
The six working groups were formulated following a four-day training seminar, which was intended to provide training on the use of international mechanisms for the protection of women’s human rights. The six groups consisted of representatives from governmental and non-governmental institutions. Each group had one main researcher who carried out the final responsibility of drafting the report. The idea was to come up with a standard report that would reflect the status of Palestinian women. Each group had its own style and approach to writing the report, but all parts of the report were based on guidelines provided by the CEDAW Committee for Writing Reports, and on the basis of the criteria developed by the Committee.
The report highlights the principal features and gaps, but it also seeks to promote the culture of CEDAW within the Palestinian society. It is intended to be an important document in the hands of Palestinian decision-making bodies to provide those concerned with the opportunity to deal with these gaps, and to make recommendations in future legislation and policy, with the aim of bringing them in line with the principles of equality, non-discrimination and respect for women’s human rights.
THE RIGHT TO BE PROTECTED AGAINST VIOLENCE
CEDAW, Article 6
By Randa Siniora
Like all societies on earth, Palestinian society suffers from the problem of violence against girls and women - violence that is based solely on the basis of gender and directed against females. Violence acquires different forms and occurs in various degrees, including psychological, physical, sexual, economic and political dimensions. It can take the shape of beating or physical humiliation, psychological terror or verbal abuse. It can sometimes be sexual harassment and sexual assault, incest, rape, threats to kill, or femicide (also known as ‘honour’ killings).
This section of the report deals with the connection between political and social violence in Palestinian society and the manner in which each of these forms of violence interplays with the other. There is also a focus on the forms of violence directed against women at the societal level and within the family, as well as a description of the laws, policies and measures related to the problem of violence, including criminal legislation, which explicitly discriminates against women.
A separate section of this report is dedicated to the CEDAW-based analysis of the gaps inherent in Palestinian society with regards to violence against women. This section concludes with a number of recommendations addressing the problem of gender-related violence. The recommendations incorporate awareness-promotion campaigns to change the prevailing stereotypes and values, and social behavioural patterns that consolidate the inferiority of women in Palestinian society. The recommendations also include a set of measures for policy makers to adopt in order to protect battered women, defend their rights, and develop training programmes for law enforcement officials in order to equip them to deal better with cases of sexual and gender violence. Other recommendations are directed at lawmakers in order to provide them with strategies to guarantee the protection of battered women, based on equality, non-discrimination and the respect for women’s human rights.
Important data and information on violence against women:
Taking into consideration the sensitivity of the issue and the culture of ‘shame’ and ‘cover-up’ that prevail in Palestinian society, the figures and statistics shown below point to the fact that the problem of gender violence exists. However, the figures do not necessarily reflect the volume of the problem, given the fact that traditional Palestinian cultural values have viewed violence as a ‘private and family’ affair. Official statistics, therefore, do not necessarily reflect the gravity of the problem.
Statistics and figures available provide the following data:
1. Femicide or ‘honour’ crimes: Annually, several girls and women are either killed or threatened with death for tarnishing family ‘honour’. These crimes are the manifestation of culturally inherited values that impose on women socially expected behaviour that is derived from prevailing patriarchal norms and standards. Trespasses on this expected pattern of behaviour by women is not tolerated, in the interest of preserving the ‘honour’ of men or the family (male interests). ‘Honour’ is principally connected to the behaviour - or, more importantly, the perceived behaviour - of girls and women, and the degree of perceived compliance with the accepted behavioural norms for women in society. Any trespass confers upon the relevant male (father, brother, husband, uncle, etc.) a right to ‘discipline’ the woman in order to ‘restore’ family honour. This restoration of honour sometimes takes the form of murdering the concerned woman for her social trespass. Following is some of the data available on this issue:
- 38 cases of femicide were documented between 1996-1999, 12 of which occurred in the West Bank and 26 in Gaza. The average age of murdered women was between 20-30 years. The murders were all committed by close (first degree) male relatives such as fathers, brothers, and uncles.
- In a clinical study of femicide, 69 cases of murder threats were documented during the period between June 1997-November 1999. Three of the women under study were actually later murdered. Eighty-five percent of these cases involved single, unmarried women (53.6% involved single women, 13.1% involved married or divorced women, 11.6% involved abandoned women and 7.5% involved engaged girls). The study indicated that 80% of the cases involved adolescent girls, 37.9% were in the age group 14-20 and 42.3% were in the age group of 15-30.
- Femicide is also related to various forms of violence. Available information indicates that many of those women who were threatened to be killed or have actually been killed had also been victims of rape or sexual assault within the domestic sphere - incest. In other cases, women were victims of inaccurate or unconfirmed allegations concerning their behaviour. In such cases, women are typically incarcerated within their home and are precluded from carrying on with their normal lives (education or work). They are subjected to verbal and physical violence and, more dangerously, they face threats of murder. Their rights to life and personal security are wantonly violated.
- Unfortunately, applicable criminal legislation does not handle ‘crimes of honour’ in a serious manner. A review of the legal texts indicates blatant discrimination based on sex. A good example is the text of Jordanian Criminal Law #16 of 1960, concerning femicide. This law includes a ‘mitigating circumstances’ clause, whereby the perpetrator of an honour crime may be immune from punishment if it is shown that he discovered the victim (his wife or any of his close female relatives) committing an adulterous act. Based on this, a man may kill or injure a suspected female with total impunity. Other violent acts are also justified for any male “who finds his wife or any of his relatives or family members or sisters in bed with someone engaged in illicit sex. ” (Article 340 of the same law).
2. Family violence against unmarried women ]
Most data on family violence against unmarried women is based on the cases made available by Palestinian NGOs, particularly women’s centres that provide assistance and legal, social and psychological counselling for female victims of violence. There are no official statistics or data on this matter. However, the available information can be summed up as follows:
- The Society for the Defence of the Family received 525 cases during the period between 1996-1998: 300 cases involved psychological violence, 99 cases involved sexual violence and 126 cases involved physical violence.
- During the same period, the Gaza Community Mental Health Project treated 129 cases that involved beating, verbal and psychological humiliation: 29 girls were deprived of education or work and 29 cases involved sexual harassment.
- Data provided by WCLAC indicates that 546 cases were received in 1999 alone: 75% of the females who asked for assistance were between the ages of 16-35. These females were victims of sexual, physical and psychological violence; 30% of the cases involved single women or girls who live with their parents.
3. Sexual assault in the family (incest)
- The problem of incest is a disturbing phenomenon and began to receive special and focused attention in the last decade, particularly by Palestinian women’s centres. Unofficial statistical data confirms that most sexual assault against girls and women fall within the context of the family, perpetrated by males of the closest kinship degree. According to data available by the Working Women’s Society, 75% of sexual assault cases against women involve men closely related to them, such as fathers, brothers, and uncles. In a smaller number of cases of sexual assault, perpetrators include teachers, neighbours, taxi drivers, and others.
- This problem is not restricted to a certain sector or one specific social class. Young girls are more exposed than others to sexual assaults in the family, particularly girls within the age group of 4-13 years.
- Statistics on minors who have received care from charitable societies affiliated with the Ministry of Social Affairs indicate that in 1998, there were 41 cases involving ‘indecent assaults’ in the West Bank and 39 cases in the Gaza Strip. The term ‘indecent assault’, as defined by law, incorporates sexual assaults committed against either males or females. One should be aware that the official figures do not necessarily reflect the extent of the problem, but simply cite the cases treated by the charitable societies. Nor do these figures reflect the gravity of the problems distinct to women and girls because of the lack of interest and sensitivity to gender distinctions.
- The problem is even bigger due to the absence of official policies and procedures in dealing with incest, and also due to the lack of preventive and therapeutic programmes or effective working strategies to confront and deal with the problem.
- Gender discrimination is also inherent in relevant criminal legislation, whereby the crimes of rape, indecent assaults, and incest fall under the category of ‘crimes against public morals and ethics’, and not under ‘crimes against individuals’. Sentences are generally shorter for crimes against the public, as opposed to crimes against individuals. For example, articles 285 and 286 of the Jordanian Penal Code, related to ‘crimes against public morals and ethics’, impose prison sentences ranging between 2-3 years. This neither serves as effective deterrence nor retribution for victims of such crimes, and in the case of incest, certainly does not correspond to the weight of the crime or degree of the violation. Article 286 stipulates: "Incestuous actions shall only be pursued upon the complaint of a male relative or an in-law, up to a fourth-degree kinship." In other words, neither the victim nor any of her female relatives, such as her mother, are allowed to file a complaint in incest cases. Moreover, although incest cases are classified as ‘crimes against public morals and ethics’, they do not meet the “collective right” threshold, thus restricting non-related third parties, such as women’s organisations, from pursuing legal action.
- Statistics on crime issued by the Central Bureau of Statistics indicated in 1998 a total of 115 cases of rape or attempted rape in the Palestinian territories, 85% of which occurred in the West Bank, with 30 cases in the Gaza Strip. The same statistics indicate that 4,918 cases of ‘moral’ offences were reported: 3,180 in the West Bank and 1,738 in the Gaza Strip. Definitions are not clear on the meaning of ‘moral offence’. It could mean sexual harassment, or other types of similar actions, and it may include offences against either males or females. The difficulty faced in analysing this data lies in its lack of sensitivity to gender.
- According to Palestinian security sources, the phenomenon of kidnapping and rape is increasing within Palestinian society, particularly in occupied East Jerusalem. In January 1998 alone, for example, there were 9 reported cases of kidnapping in Jerusalem, seven of which included the rape of minor girls (between 14-18 years).
- Official bodies do not have clear policies and procedures on how to deal with cases of rape or attempted rape or sexual harassment. These cases are usually left to the individuals’ own judgement, and, thus far, there are no programmes to raise awareness or train people who implement the law. Traditional patriarchal values underlie the handling of many cases, which are dealt with under tribal law, by the Mukhtar (tribal elder) or amongst members of the extended family, who work to resolve the case through reconciliation and mediation, while covering up the crime in the interests of ‘concealing’ the scandal and preventing it from spreading.
- Criminal law does not impose effective deterrent penalties against perpetrators of these kinds of crimes. The Jordanian Penal Code imposes hard labour for at least five years if the assault was carried out against a single woman, whereas the penalty is not less than seven years if the victim was under 15 years of age. The law does not consider it rape if a man forces sex upon his wife against her will. If a girl is raped by one of her legitimate or illegitimate relatives, and is less than 18 years old, the convict is sentenced to hard labour for a period between 3-5 years. This text does not grant the same rights to the rape victim if she is older than 18 years. It also provides the judge with major discretionary authority to estimate the gravity of the crime and to impose what he considers an appropriate sentence. This is dangerous, as patriarchy, chauvinism and negative female stereotypes may come into play in judges’ determinations, particularly in sentencing.
- Meanwhile, article 308 of the Jordanian Penal Code lowers the sentence against the perpetrator if a "legal and correct marriage contract is forged" between him and the victim. In other words, the law grants the perpetrator the chance to escape penalty by marrying the victim. He is, therefore, rewarded instead of being punished for his crime, while the victim’s interests, mental health and personal security are completely neglected as social forces coerce her into marrying her victimiser.
- Laws in effect in the West Bank and Gaza Strip do not allow abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. Abortion is thus considered a crime. The few cases in which an abortion will be permitted are limited to situations in which the health or life of the expecting mother is at stake. It is important here to clarify that by ‘health’, the law refers only to physical health, and not to psychological health, within a set of conditions and complications. As such, battered women or women under a threat of ‘honour’ killing as a result of rape or incest are not afforded the right to a legal abortion. Such women are left with one of two difficult options: to abort the foetus on her own, which carries serious risks to her life and safety, or to continue with the pregnancy and bear the social and psychological burdens of an ‘illegitimate’ pregnancy and childbirth.
5. Battered wives:
- Palestinian cultural values and popular attitudes enhance the saying that cases of domestic violence are "family and private" issues and that no one should interfere. Such cases are widely perceived to be outside of the general authority of the state under the view that government should not interfere in the privacy of families and the sanctity of homes. This is one of the key obstacles in confronting the problem of domestic violence and in formulating suitable practical strategies to confront it. Available official statistics remain an inaccurate indicator of the extent of this problem, particularly within the culture of silence that prevails in Palestinian society, and within social concepts that focus on blaming the victim, holding her responsible for the husband’s violence, whether verbal, psychological, physical or economic.
- The temporary Jordanian Personal Status Code of 1976, in force in West Bank, grants battered women the right to file for a divorce on the grounds of “conflict and discord” resulting from harm inflicted by the husband. However, the battered wife bears the burden of proving the damage, which only encompasses physical harm. The woman is thus expected to show scars or physical evidence of physical abuse. Most judges, shaped by traditional values, do not acknowledge verbal or mental abuse. Moreover, battered women are rarely able to benefit from the law as a result of social pressures on one hand, and the practical applications of the law on the other, as well as the lack of financial resources to pay for lawyers and court fees. Most women are entirely dependent on their husbands for finances.
The role of official institutions
Official social and political institutions have the basic obligation to confront the issue of gender violence through the formulation of preventive and therapeutic programmes that encompass basic issues of human rights, the rule of law, democracy and the maintenance of sustainable development, in a comprehensive sense. This issue should not be left by any means to the civil sector only, but requires the consolidation of all efforts at both the civil and official levels. Responsibility lies with relevant ministries, such as Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Youth and Sport, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Justice and others, and on official bodies, especially the police, to formulate clear policies and procedures when dealing with cases of violence against girls and women.
The Role of NGOs
Palestinian NGOs, particularly women’s NGOs, have been playing a vital role in helping women victims of violence by providing social, psychological and legal counselling to victims and through the formulation of preventive programmes to promote awareness amongst women and within society about the problem of gender violence and its negative implications on women, families and society. However, these efforts do not correspond to the extent of the problem, and women’s NGOs are not capable on their own to meet the needs of battered women and girls, particularly since these centres are located only in towns, with limited access to rural areas. The programmes vary from providing support and protection, to educational and awareness raising activities, to group counselling, to conducting research studies on the various aspects and forms of violence, to advocacy and lobbying with legislators and decision-makers to adopt laws, policies and procedures that ensure the protection of the rights of female victims of violence.
This report clearly shows that official state institutions, especially the Ministry of Social Affairs and the police, do not handle cases of violence against women seriously. The following gaps are obvious:
- Absence of clear policies and procedures to handle cases of gender-based violence. The issue is usually left to the efforts and judgment of individuals.
- Police departments are poorly qualified to handle complaints and cases in the field of ‘family violence’. Female police officers do not assume a direct role in dealing with cases of battered women, and female investigators do not necessarily place the best interests of the victim as a top priority in dealing with complaints.
- Lack of special programs to train law enforcement officials in order to develop their skills in dealing with cases of family violence and violence against women. Also, a lack of sufficient training for the police in order to enable them to carry out their duties by respecting the rule of law and human rights, and to raise their awareness of gender issues.
- Lack of a known address at the social affairs offices to handle complaints of battery. Also, a lack of a special women’s unit with strategic plans to deal with the problem.
- The role of the social affairs departments have been restricted to basic relief functions, whereby only financial and material assistance is provided for female victims of violence. Moreover, there are still insufficient educational programmes to address the problem and to confront it with a clear and shared vision in coordination with other competent ministries, such as the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Sports and Youth, the Ministry of Health, and others.
- Absence of a clear working mechanism between the police and the Ministry of Social Affairs in dealing with issues of violence against girls and women.
- Conflicts of interest and the overlap of duties and jurisdiction amongst the Ministry of Social Affairs, the police and the Governors’ offices in various districts.
- Non-existence of a safe haven for battered women and those threatened with murder, in addition to the resistance to opening safe havens to protect battered women and their children.
- Insufficient training for mental health staff and social workers to enable them to deal effectively with cases of violence against women and to increase their sensitivity to issues of gender, equality and respect of human rights in the performance of their professional duties.
- Absence of legislation relevant to the protection of women against violence, in addition to the blatant discrimination against women in the laws applicable to the West Bank and Gaza, particularly criminal legislation dealing with gender violence.
- The fact that patriarchal attitudes prevail within the Palestinian judiciary makes it difficult to protect women who are victims of violence and obstructs their right to fair access to justice.
Also, there is an absence of precedent-setting jurisprudence that would allow for the protection of the rights of battered women and women’s human rights. Unfortunately, there is a greater dependence on tribalism and tribal reconciliation in dealing with cases of violence against girls and women.
- The prevalence of a culture of ‘shame’ and ‘silence’ in Palestinian society. Also, the prevailing values that are manifested in customs and traditions that are unsympathetic to female victims of violence, and which focus on blaming the victim and solidifying distinctions between the sexes that place women in an inferior position to men.
- Non-existence of studies and research on gender violence. Such studies would be vital in contributing to the formulation of policies and procedures to protect battered women.
- Non-existence of indicators for measuring the gravity of the problem in Palestinian society, or means to assess the extent of progress, in order to overcome and confront the problem.
1. Devise educational and social awareness programs that can contribute to the discussion of the problem and its negative impact, and which will help change traditional social and behavioural patterns that are fed by customs and traditions that consolidate women’s inferiority and second-class status in relation to men.
2. Conduct lobbying campaigns to exert pressure on Palestinian legislators and decision makers to encourage them to adopt legislation based on equality and the respect for women’s human rights, and to urge them to ratify a law to protect the family.
3. Urge the PNA and its official establishments to draft clear public policies to deal with cases of violence against women, in order to encourage the security services to carry out the following:
- Establish special units to handle cases of family violence inside police stations. Prepare and train women police officers to deal with such cases in the spirit of human rights and with a greater awareness of gender issues.
- Devise training programmes for law enforcement officials to exercise their duties in accordance with human rights standards, the rule of law and sensitivity to women’s issues.
- Design a working mechanism of coordination that will clearly determine the duties and jurisdiction of all relevant bodies, including the Ministry of Social Affairs, as well as other ministries and official establishments.
4. Demand that the Ministry of Social Affairs deal more seriously with the issue of violence against women by undertaking the following:
- Adopting clear-cut policies and procedures to deal with cases of gender violence.
- Design therapeutic programs to help female victims of violence economically, socially and psychologically, to rehabilitate them and integrate them in society. This can be done in cooperation with other ministries, particularly in helping them find jobs.
- Open up ‘safe havens’ for battered women and those threatened with murder in coordination with the competent security apparatuses, in order to ensure the security and safety of these shelters. Work more enthusiastically to establish a safe haven in cooperation with competent women’s centres.
- Rehabilitate and train social workers and mental health experts in order to efficiently handle cases of battered women and victims of violence.
- Devise educational and therapeutic programs in order to deal with the problem of violence against women, in cooperation with Palestinian non-governmental organisations, particularly women’s organisations.
- Conduct studies and clinical research related to the problem in order to devise practical and appropriate solutions.
- Devise a clear working mechanism between the Ministry of Social Affairs, the police and the Governor’s office to deal with cases of battered women in cooperation and coordination with the competent women’s organisations.
- Demand that the official establishments, in their capacity as the basic and competent party to take initiatives on matters related to violence against women, take a more active role in confronting the problems of violence and to consider the role of women’s centres and other NGOs as supportive and complimentary to the role of official institutions.
5. Conduct studies and clinical research in order to devise practical and appropriate solutions.
6. Draw up specific indicators in order to assess the gravity of the problem and the potential progress to be achieved through programmes and projects.
2. THE CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS OF WOMEN
CEDAW, Articles 7, 8, 9 and 15
By Suraida Abed-Hussein
This section assesses the status of Palestinian women in regard to their civil and political rights. To this end, I will describe the realities of life for Palestinian women and highlight the existing gaps between the reality of life and the standards laid out in the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.
This section takes articles 7, 8, 9 and 15 as a reference point for the examination of the status of Palestinian women’s civil and political rights. These articles deal with women’s voting rights and nomination and participation in general elections. They also address women’s appointments to public office and their participation in non-governmental organisations. Article 8 examines the woman’s opportunity to represent her country at the international level. Article 9 deals with the right to obtain and maintain a nationality. Finally, Article 15 deals with issues of equality before the law, women’s legal eligibility, as well as freedom of movement and selection of residence.
Palestinian women and their right to candidacy and voting (Article 7a)
20 January 1996 marks the first time ever Palestinians exercised their right to vote for elected representatives in their homeland. An estimated one million Palestinians in the occupied territories (West Bank and Gaza) took part in the election to name members of the Legislative Council (PLC) and the President. The experience is further distinguished in that it included the potential for the full participation of women.
The number of eligible female voters registered was 49% of the registered population eligible for voting. This was viewed as a strong female presence, but it dropped to 32% when the people went to the polls, as opposed to 58% for males. This meant that the number of registered females was significantly lower than the number of females who actually cast a ballot and exercised their right to vote.
The discrepancy indicated to many observers the existence of restrictions and impediments that prevented many women from exercising their voting right. These restrictions will be addressed later in the report. However, in terms of article 7a of CEDAW, the right to ‘participate’ in general elections must certainly be interpreted to mean the full participation of women at all stages of the election, clearly not the case during the 1996 Palestinian election.
As for candidacy, 28 women were nominated to sit as members of the PLC compared to 676 men. This represents only 4.15 percent of the total number of candidates. Of the 28 nominated women, 5 were elected, as compared to 83 male members, giving women just 6 percent of the seats.
Impediments facing women in candidacy and elections
(1) Elections law as an impediment
The election system laid out in the Elections law has reduced the chances for women to achieve better results in the general elections, as the law establishes multi-electoral districts instead of a single one. Moreover, elections are based on the concept of simple majority. The implications of this meant that only one or two seats were allocated in the assembly for the 16 districts of the West Bank and Gaza. The limited number allocated for these electoral districts has reduced the chances for women and has affected the serious intention by the political parties to nominate more women, thinking that the chances for winning for men would be much better than those for women.
Other factors that serve as legislative impediments to women achieving greater success in the electoral system can be highlighted as follows:
Tribalism, narrow political vision and granting legitimacy to only one party
The system of simple majority, as adopted by the statute, helps to consolidate the marginalisation of parties and political movements that are not a part of the authority structure. Added to this is the fact that the Elections law was passed in the aftermath of the Israel/Palestinian negotiations (according to the Oslo Accords, legislation cannot be adopted unless approved by Israel). As such, the law reflects a political state of affairs that is transitory in nature, in which sovereignty is the subject of discussion and bilateral negotiation.
It is clear that when women have been excluded from the development planning process, marginalised within the existing political parties and rejected in the tribal arena, there is little hope for them to compete with men within the existing political framework. There is a proposed substitute law that urges the adoption of a system of proportional representation and a single electoral district to replace the majority representation and the multi-electoral districts of the current law.
(2) Traditional culture as an impediment
Despite Palestinian women’s active participation in most aspects of life, particularly in the national/political field, Palestinian women have thus far failed to participate in the process of decision-making. For example, women are not represented at all in the PLO’s Executive Committee. Moreover, the increase of women’s membership in the Palestinian National Council, which has now reached 12 percent, is not very large compared to the proportional increase in overall membership. It is here that perhaps prevailing cultural attitudes and stereotypes about women and their abilities (or lack thereof) serve as significant impediments to greater female participation in key decision making processes
Holding high rank in public office
Available statistics from local sources such as the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics indicate a strikingly low level of participation of women in the upper echelons of public office, meaning that women have been marginalised from decision making at the official level. Although women represent 13% of the staff in administrative positions, they hold only 3% of top decision-making positions, such as legislators and upper level public servants, according to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics.
Article 7(b) of CEDAW outlines the right of women to participate in the formulation and implementation of government policy. When we compare this to the current reality in Palestine, we see a clear gap between what is expected and what is the case. Unfortunately, the manner in which appointments to public office is conducted does not take into account individual qualifications, nor are there any clear administrative regulations for such appointments. Under article 7(b), the State must remove all obstacles in order to enable women to fully exercise their rights. The State must also create an appropriate environment in which women may more actively participate in decision-making processes, such as the implementation of hiring quotas, employment equity and other affirmative action initiatives. All of this is meant to serve the aim of bridging the gaps in gender discrimination in government hiring practices.
In other public posts, such as village or town councils or project committees for rural communities, the number of women appointed to positions is nominal. Out of a total of 3,081 such positions, only 13 are held by women.
In the judiciary, there are three female judges: one in the Court of Minors, another in the Conciliation Court, which deals with traffic offences, and the third in Gaza. There are no female judges in the religious courts. The same can be said about the quasi-judicial tribal systems.
We believe it is necessary to increase the number of women in the judiciary through the promotion of women through the judicial hierarchy, and removing the obstacles which preclude women from reaching high judicial positions. Women lawyers should be afforded equal opportunity to train, qualify and develop skills to be able to compete for high posts. Appropriate policies should be designed to make this possible.
Allowing women to be represented at the international level, both officially and unofficially (Article 8)
A recent study shows that there is only one woman holding the position of ambassador - Laila Shaheed in France. Another woman, Mayyada Abbas is the Palestinian representative to Senegal. There are also several women represented in the General Unionof Palestinian women(GUPW) (which is a branch of the PLO) who have been appointed directly by President Arafat and who represent Palestinian women in official and non-official circles.
As for unofficial representation, there are scores of women working for non-governmental organisations with an international dimension. Unfortunately, there are no accurate statistics or studies in this regard.
Women in political parties
It is not an exaggeration to say that the PLO and its various factions are male-dominated and patriarchal by nature. Since the launching of the Palestinian revolution on 1 January 1965, decision-making authority within Palestinian groups was kept firmly in the hands of men, to the complete exclusion of women. It has been men who have led, orchestrated, planned and moblised Palestinian parties. In the beginning, there was no space for debate, as all group activity was directed against the occupation, thus deferring the promotion of women’s involvement to the later stage of national liberation. This has been the case across the political spectrum and amongst all political factions, both on the left and on the right.
With the level of women’s representation in the ranks of political parties and movements so minute, the chances of women participating on an equal footing with men in the governmental and legislative framework is minimal, especially as appointment to public office operates through the political parties themselves and not through an independent administrative system or according to pre-designed criteria.
It could be true that NGOs, with their current influence, could facilitate participation in political life, but the political parties remain the principal access route to public life.
By examining the statistics provided by the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics (diagram 5-2, p.172), which show the representation rate of women in the major Palestinian political parties such as Fatah, PFLP, DFLP and the Communist party, we see that the rate of female participation is higher in the leftist parties than in the centre and Islamist parties. However, the influence of leftist parties on decision making is much lower than that of Fatah, which has a lower percentage of women in high-ranking positions. It should be noted that, as a whole, there are insufficient statistics on the representation rate of women in all of the parties.
Nationality (Article 9)
The first draft law project on Palestinian nationality was submitted by the PNA in 1995. The draft was based on Law # 1 of 1994 which stipulates the maintenance of all laws, regulations and orders valid before 5 June 1967 in the Palestinian territories (West Bank and Gaza Strip). The law was also based on the decrees of the unified Palestinian nationality of 1925 and 1945, as well as the amendments to these laws applicable in the Gaza Strip. It was also based on the Jordanian Nationality Code #6 of 1945, and its amendments applicable to the West Bank.
The nationality code valid in the West Bank directly contravenes Article 9 of CEDAW. In regard to Palestinian women, the code discriminates on the grounds of gender and denies women the right to obtain nationality for themselves and their children. For example, a woman is not entitled to maintain her nationality if she gets married to a non-Palestinian who conveys to her his nationality, unless she submits a written application to the Minister of the Interior within one year following her marriage. According to the draft law, the nationality of the child takes after the father, not the mother, unless the father has no nationality or whose nationality is undetermined.
This constitutes a clear case of discrimination against women, as similar provisions do not apply to men. Moreover, Article 11 of the Jordanian Nationality Code of 1954, applicable in the West Bank, entitles a man to “incorporate” his wife in his passport.
There is no stipulation entitling the woman to preserve her family name after marriage, notwithstanding that there exists no legal obligation for a woman to adopt her husband’s name at marriage. Unfortunately, the case is that women’s family names are automatically changed without consent or alternative option.
Equality in legal and civil issues (Article 15)
Article 15 (a, b and c) of the Convention stipulates that women should be accorded equality with men before and under the law. It is additionally the responsibility of the States Parties to safeguard the equality of women in matters of civil law. Paragraph (a) of article 15 contains an assurance that women will be accorded equality with men before the law. This assurance takes various forms, such as equal rights to conclude contracts, and to administer and own property(15b). Moreover, paragraph (c) of the article urges all States Parties to agree that all contracts and all other private instruments of any kind with a legal effect that aim to restrict the legal capacity of women shall be deemed null and void.
Within the Palestinian context, the notion of equality has become more entrenched amongst Palestinian legislators than was evidenced amongst previous administrations (Ottomans, Egyptians, Jordanians, British and Israelis). This seriousness has been reflected in the Declaration of Independence as well as in other documents adopted by the PNA, such as the Basic Law and the declaration of commitment to international conventions and covenants.
The Basic Law, a quasi-constitutional doccument, ensures the right to equality under the second heading of “Public freedoms and rights”. Article 9 stipulates that: "All Palestinians shall be equal before and under the law without discrimination on any grounds, such as race, sex, colour, religion, political opinion or disability."
Unfortunately, neither the term ’women’ nor ’men’ is used above. Despite the mentioning of discrimination based on sex, legislators should have expressly mentioned the words “equality between men and women” in order to maintain clear cut and direct texts distanced from semantic confusion. Having said that, it should be noted that the expressions ’man’ and ’woman’ were explicitly mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.
Although it is noted that Palestinian legislators have tended to incorporate the principle of equality in the basic legislation of the PNA, the tendency is not included in all laws and policies of the government. There is a need for entrenching equality as a basic cornerstone of all legislation, a standard to which every law must measure up. This, however, will require a great deal of continued work and efforts by women activists.
Equality in concluding contracts, and administering and owning properties
We find several contradictions in the provisions of law applicable to Palestinian women in this regard. In some cases, women are deemed ineligible to exercise certain contractual rights, such as in the legal provisions relating to jurisdiction in marriage or those related to the tacking of women. At the same time, women are sometimes afforded complete eligibility even before they have reached the age of majority, such as the conditions for marriage laid out in the Personal Status Code, which stipulate that a girl of 15 years is eligible for marriage.
The current reality is that customs and traditions are the sole judges that determine the eligibility of women to conclude contracts and own property. This constitutes a challenge for the PNA to modify these discrepancies, eradicate discrimination and reverse cultural inheritances that prevent women from the full realisation of their human rights. Women should be afforded the freedom to be financially independent and self-sufficient, and to conclude contacts without guardianship by anyone.
1. Based on the Declaration of Independence, we call on the PLO to exercise positive interventions in favour of women and to commit itself to the text of the Declaration of Independence.
2. Call on all political parties to highlight women’s issues in their discourse, performance and programs, and we call on them to expand the participation of women at all levels of leadership by providing incentives for them to join and progress through the ranks.
3. Activate the role of the General Union of the Palestinian Woman’s ( GUPW) by adding qualified and elected women according to the principle of proportional representation, and by allocating special budgets for that purpose.
4. Call on NGOs to consolidate women’s participation in leadership roles and in decision-making processes.
5. Safeguard the structure of ’quotas’ in the Elections Law as well as in all legislative establishments and local councils. We call for a reconsideration of the current Elections Law based on the principle of a single electoral district and proportional representation.
6. Grant equal rights to women and men in the nationality law, and ensure the right of women to convey nationality to their children and spouses.
7. Broaden women’s participation in local councils by means of affirmative action programmes.
8. The need for the PLO to widen women’s participation in international diplomatic missions as well as within international committees.
9. Commitment to the stipulations of the Declaration of Independence and the Basic Law on the basis of equality and non-discrimination between the sexes in all aspects.
10. Conscientiously work to ensure that the provisions of the Basic Law are used to protect and promote rights without any form of discrimination. Amend all other laws so that they are in accord with the Basic Law, and hold all new legislation to this constitutional standard.
3. The right to Education
CEDAW, Articles 2, 5 and 10
By Suheir Odeh
The signing of the Oslo Accords in 1994 laid out the transfer of certain powers to the PNA, including the power to administer education. This marked the first time in history that Palestinians would administer their own unified education system over the entirety of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (not including Jerusalem).
Immediately, the PNA set out to accomplish a number of goals. It began by providing schooling to everyone through a system of compulsory education, inspired by the notion that education is a basic right that must be upheld by government. The PNA tried to reduce drop-out rates, eliminate illiteracy and provide education for girls, especially as it was ignored during the years of Israeli occupation.
The Palestinian Ministry of Education worked hard to form a committee specialised in curriculum development, taking into account various approaches that encourage critical thinking, discovery and participation, while avoiding extensive memorisation. More important is that the new syllabi would adopt and promote progressive views about women in all regards. The Ministry appointed a gender specialist to guarantee the incorporation of gender issues in the curriculum and civil education.
It should be noted that the Ministry of Education has, for the first time, allowed schoolgirls who are engaged or married to return to the classroom to complete their compulsory school education. During the years of Israeli occupation, it had become customary to remove girls from school if they were to get engaged or married, and they would rarely, if ever, return to complete their education.
Current educational stages
The Ministry of Education supervises all stages of education for children between the ages of 6-18. This consists of primary and secondary stages. There are several agencies which oversee the operation of schools, based on the nature of the school, whether public, private or UNRWA (run by the UN). These schools are found everywhere in the West Bank and Gaza.
Distribution of students
Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics indicates that the number of male students in Palestinian public schools is 277,044, compared to 272,360 female students. In UNRWA schools, the number of male students is 104,242 males and 106,517 females. In private schools, the number is 30,565 male students and 21,994 females.
When we examine the figures, we notice that the number of male students in public and private schools is higher than female students. The reason for this is that there are fewer girls’ schools, so parents tend to register their male children in private schools despite the added costs in order to ‘invest’ in the future of their male children. Sons offer a greater potential of benefit to parents, while it is commonly perceived as a ‘waste’ of money to ensure a high level of education for daughters, who, upon marriage, typically ‘join’ the family of their husband. This discrimination, derived from cultural norms, impacts on the education of girls, who often find themselves deprived of tertiary and higher education.
Kindergartens are not administered by any official body, despite their important role in preparing children for for formal education. In the West Bank, the number of children enroled in kindergartens represents 55.5% of all male children and 53.8% of female children. In the Gaza Strip, the figures are a little lower at 42% of male children and 38.8% of females. Despite the marginal difference in enrolment between boys and girls, we should note that although this must be affected in part by discrimination against females, it is not appropriate to generalise here.
Elementary and secondary levels
The Ministry of Education has exerted tremendous effort to make it possible for students to enrol regularly in schools. To make it easier, the Ministry ratified a law that mandates basic education up to the age of 15. Moreover, the Ministry has adopted strict measures against teachers who beat students, as a measure to help reduce the drop-out rate. Unfortunately, we find that the rate of girls who drop out from school increases as they progress through school, particularly in high school. Statistics show that the rate of female enrolment in primary school is estimated at 90.9%, whereas it drops to 63.7% in the secondary stage. These rates do show some positive signs, but the problems leading to early female drop-out rates are caused by early marriage and the scarcity of girls’ schools at the higher levels in rural villages and refugee camps.
In addition to females dropping-out, discrimination is also inherent in secondary school syllabi and study streams, which follow traditional gender patterns. The streams consist of literary, scientific, commercial and industrial. Girls in the West Bank and Gaza tend to move principally into the literary stream, followed by the commercial stream in the West Bank, and the agricultural stream in Gaza.
Girls choose to specialise in the literary stream due to the limited options available to them when they graduate and start working. They pursue literary subjects thinking that they may be able to continue their education at university and get jobs deemed by social norms to be ‘acceptable for girls’, such as teachers, secretaries or professionals in the social sector. The education system caters to these trends and supports the division of specialty streams on the basis of gender, particularly in industrial and professional education.
By comparison, male students typically pursue education in the scientific, commercial and agricultural streams, which enable them to obtain better (higher paying) jobs, such as engineers, businessmen, accountants, lawyers, physicists, mathematicians computer scientists, and so on. Male students are not restricted by traditions and customs, or by social and economic conditions that force them to specialise in fields censored by society and which could impact on their status in the family. In other words, male students have the total freedom to choose the subject they wish to pursue and to determine their own future, while female students are denied this choice.
Statistics from Men and Women in Palestine indicate that the number of female students enroled in Palestinian universities in the year 1996-97 was 12,148 in the West Bank and 19,643 in Gaza (45.1% and 42.5%, respectively, of the total student population). There were 14,828 male students in the West Bank and 26,533 in the Gaza Strip. While the proportion of females to males is slightly less than half at Palestinian universities, it is noteworthy to mention that female students outnumber males in training institutes and colleges by a slim margin of 51%-49%.
The development of vocational education and training in Palestine has been slow and generally serves to accommodate students who are not considered intelligent. Moreover, the skills taught in vocational schools are strongly linked to the needs of Israeli markets, particularly for men. Vocational training in Palestine is supervised by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, and other non-governmental and private organisations. Most of these organisations, both official and unofficial, offer training programmes that endorse gender-based discrimination and which support traditional, patriarchal gender roles. Women are restricted to learning vocations such as sewing, embroidery, cosmetics, and food preparation, whereas men learn professions such as carpentry, blacksmithry, commerce, accounting and management. Women stand few chances of being admitted to study any of these trades. If they do manage to gain access to one of these fields, it is usually temporary and involves working in an unregulated sector where the pay is lower, working hours are long and workers’ compensation and employment insurance are generally not afforded.
The syllabi used in educational institutions in the West Bank and Gaza promote retrograde ideas about women. Developments and progress in women’s rights since the 1920s are not reflected in the syllabi, which preserve an archaic image of females. This image found in most school books presents traditional gender roles with the mother who cooks and the father who works; the mother who irons while her daughter, Rabab, helps in the kitchen, as the father reads the newspaper and son, Bassem, is playing in the courtyard. In other textbooks, the woman is the compassionate nurse who can perform miracles on her patients with her sympathy and care, and so on.
Traditional gender roles are also reinforced through offering gender-specific classes. For example, girls are given classes in embroidery, house keeping, weaving and sewing, ingraining traditional values pertaining to the woman’s role within the home. Meanwhile, boys are given classes in vocational skills, such as carpentry, blacksmithry, agriculture and commerce. These jobs prepare male students to earn money from employment.
Fortunately, the PNA in coordination with several NGOs particularly women organizations, have formed a committee of experts to prepare new Palestinian syllabi. A gender expert was added to the committee.
The PNA has allocated 17% of its budget to the education sector. Two-thirds of this sum is spent on salaries, which are quite low for teachers, many of whom suffer economic hardships due to the political situation and the expensive cost of life.
Statistics from Men and Women in Palestine for the year 1996-97 indicate that women constitute 99.8% of the teaching and administrative staff in pre-schools, 48.96% at the elementary level, and 43.96% at the elementary and secondary levels. In other words, the rate drops consistently as the educational level become higher. The number of female teachers in polytechnic institutes is 27.56%, and just 12.26% in universities. The same figures apply to school principals.
Statistics from Men and Woman in Palestine for the year 1995 indicate that the average literacy rate of females is 77%, whereas it is 91.5% for males. The rates vary depending on geographic location and age groups. Data shows that the illiteracy rate has been improved amongst the 15-24 age group and that the gap in illiteracy between the sexes has been bridged within the same age group. Reading and writing skills decline as women advance in age, particularly beyond the age of 35 years. This can be attributed to a number of reasons: the neglect of educating women over the age of 35; the lack of schools in certain areas where illiterate women are concentrated, particularly in the center of towns and in the midlands; and finally, the lack of economic incentive for people to incur the expense of educating women, as compared to men (who will later become income earners).
The role of NGOs
NGOs work hard to complement the role of governmental institutions involved in education. NGOs provide teacher training courses on gender issues, introducing teachers to the concept of gender and the importance of incorporating gender in education. There has been significant effort by a number of NGOs to provide special courses to promote non-traditional teaching methods and student-based approaches that encourage student creativity and analysis, which is the opposite of traditional teaching methods, which focus on memorisation. Moreover, several NGOs have examined the new syllabi to ensure that gender issues have been incorporated along with other concepts, such as democracy and plurality.
1. Since its inception, the Palestinian Ministry of Education has placed as a priority, the development of the education sector, enhancing the level and quality of education, and increasing the number of female students enroled in schools. It should be noted that education received the single largest share of the budget within the Palestinian development plan. However, despite the efforts of the Ministry of Education to improve education, a number of problems persist, which are as follows:
2. Overcrowding in public school classrooms. To overcome the problem, the Ministry devised a morning and an evening class schedule. However, this had a negative impact on the academic performance of students and may have contributed to the high drop-out rate of girls from secondary school.
3. Poor school infrastructure. Schools have neither heating nor air conditioning, which makes summer and winter peak times unbearable for students and teachers alike, and does not conduce to a healthy learning environment. Many schools also suffer from a lack of play space and poor laboratory supplies and resources.
4. High drop-out rates. Despite the Ministry’s efforts to reduce school drop-outs and despite the law of compulsory education, available data indicates that dropping-out still occurs, particularly amongst secondary school girls.
5. Education syllabi continue to promote traditional gender roles. This is manifest in separate, gender-based ‘skills’ courses, whereby girls learn about housekeeping, sewing and cooking while boys are taught industrial, agricultural and vocational skills.
6. Failure of engaged and married girls to complete high school. Despite the Ministry’s efforts to encourage married females to complete their school education, this procedure has not yet been codified in law in order to ensure its respect and provide for effective enforcement.
7. Lack of funding for education. It is true that the PNA allocated 17% of the budget for education in 1999, but the percentage is being reduced and could negatively impact on the education system, particularly with regard to the salaries of teachers, many of whom are struggling financially. This unavoidably carries a negative impact on their performance at work, and on the education system as a whole.
8. Need for better training of school counsellors. Despite the introduction of counsellors in West Bank and Gaza schools, there is a still a need to better equip and train these counsellors, particularly with respect to gender issues. There is also a need for more counsellors, particularly in light of the key role they play in offering support to students in helping them adapt to the biological and social changes occuring during puberty. Girls, in particular, need more care and counselling during adolescence in light of the culture of ’shame’ and ’taboo’, which cause many girls to develop unhealthy and uninformed attitudes about their bodies.
9. Need for progressive teaching techniques. The Ministry has worked, in coordination with other competent parties, to develop education syllabi and to ensure the incorporation of issues of gender, democracy and plurality. These efforts need to be built upon and coupled with the comprehensive development of the educational cadre to modify the syllabi, and teach with innovative techniques in a manner that encourages creative and rational thought, and which promotes the principle of equality between men and women in both the public and private spheres.
1. Provide free public education (at both the elementary and secondary levels) in order to ensure the opportunity for all children, particularly girls, to complete their education.
2. In order to ensure a higher standard of education, the number of classrooms should be increased to overcome the problem of overcrowdedness. Schools should also be equipped with proper labs, libraries and playgrounds. Classrooms should be adaptable to seasonal weather changes.
3. Expand extra-curricular activities, particularly at girls’ schools. These activities are useful in further developing the intellect, skills and knowledge, as girls may find it difficult to engage in these types of activities outside of the school.
4. Make education compulsory up to the age of 18 - that is, until the completion of high school.
5. Take strict necessary measures to ensure the implementation of the compulsory education law and penalise all those who violate the law through the development of mechanisms to follow-up on enforcement.
6. Educational supervision over kindergartens.
7. Provide a kindergarten class in every public school.
8. School syllabi should reflect a positive and strong image of Palestinian women, perhaps by depicting the biography of a leading Palestinian woman within the syllabus. The idea is to change the traditional image of women in society and to show that girls have the potential to be more than housekeepers and cooks. This can be started with the next generation, to whom the new syllabi will be introduced.
9. Put forth a regular training plan to acquaint teachers with modern teaching methodology, to introduce them to gender issues and encourage them to allow active participation of women in social development. Stress the importance for women to hold decision-making positions to ensure the transfer of these concepts to students through education so that it will reflect on public life and society.
10. The Ministry of Education should accord more attention to school and psychological counselling by employing more counsellors in schools.
11. Counsellors should be better trained in the areas of gender, sex education and the values of democracy. These concepts can effect a more positive formation of the student’s character.
12. The Ministry of Higher Education should adopt a policy of affirmative action in order to increase the number of female students and to assist them with financial incentives, such as bursaries and scholarships.
13. Encourage cooperation amongst governmental and non-governmental institutions to design a strategy to attract as many girls as possible who have dropped out of school, rehabilitate them by giving them educational courses on various health, social and psychological subjects, help them develop their conceptual and cultural abilities and give them a chance to integrate in practical life.
14. Strengthen and activate vocational training opportunities for girls by creating new opportunities that will help them to improve their social and economic status.
15. NGOs, women’s and development centers should coordinate their efforts to put forth a strategy that will promote the status of girls dropping out from schools by providing them with cultural courses.
16. NGOs and governmental actors should coordinate their efforts in order to design a comprehensive training plan for teachers, to better inform them of issues such as gender, democracy and the value of civil society.
17. Devise awareness-raising programmes comprising of audio-visual and reading material to promote the status of women, through the education of girls and by focusing on the importance of education, linking it with social development and demonstrating the importance of women’s equal participation in social life.
4. Economic Rights
By Ribhi Qatamesh
This section of the report deals principally with the economic rights of Palestinian women by focusing on their participation in the labour force, as well as the implications their participation in the economy has on their social, cultural and legal status. The report also discusses the role of Palestinian women in the unpaid labour force. We will focus on the realities of life for working women, using the criteria put in place by the committee assigned to monitor the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women in diagnosing and analysing these facts and realities, especially the criteria specific to article 11 (employment and the work of women), article 13 (social and economic assistance), and article 14 (rural women).
The report accords special attention to article 14, as the Palestinian society is an agricultural rural society. Rural women’s contribution in agricultural work, which is often unpaid, is major and significant, and represents a main source of national income, despite the fact that these contributions are not incorporated within official economic standards, and are considered by prevailing social and economic standards to be “voluntary” work, complementing domestic chores.
Palestinian women in the labour force
Statistics indicate that in 1996, the number of women actively participating in the Palestinian labour force did not exceed 13% of the total Palestinian labour force. This percentage dropped in 1999, when women’s participation consisted of only 11.6%. The same statistics indicate that only 67% of working-aged men were participating in the labour forces. This indicates the existence of a process that keeps women away from gainful employment, and which restricts their role to the informal economic sector, where we see an increase in female labour. Thus, social and economic forces that promote a gendered division of labour are entrenched. Statistics indicate that 84.2% of women in West Bank, and 93.1% in Gaza Strip do not form a part of the official, paid workforce.
Sector distribution of working women
The concentration of Palestinian working women in certain economic sectors is closely linked, in our view, to Palestinian economic development, social structure, and population distribution between rural and urban areas. It is also closely related to traditional social values and norms that promote the division of labour along gender lines. Within the framework of this division, we can understand the current social and economic reality, in which Palestinian women are concentrated in labour fields linked to the traditional role of women, such as domestic tasks, giving birth and child-rearing. Therefore, we find 5% of the female workers in the service sector and educational and secretarial fields, while 20% work in the health and social services sector. Of the women working in the industrial sector, 99% are employed in manufacturing industries, particularly textile and sewing factories (traditional professions that are not far from women’s traditional roles within the home).
Despite the economic changes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip resultant from Israeli policies to marginalise the Palestinian agricultural sector, agriculture remained the principal field of work for women, accounting for 34.1% of working women in West Bank, and 9.3% in the Gaza Strip. The disparity between the West Bank and Gaza Strip in terms of the number of women working in agriculture is due to the small amount of agricultural land in use in the Gaza Strip, and to the nature of the population there, as the majority are refugees living in camps.
With the arrival of the PNA, the percentage of women working in agriculture increased steadily, reaching 30% of the total female workforce. The percentage of women working in agriculture was 26.5% in 1995, 29.2% in 1996, and 29.8% in 1997 of the total women workers. In other words, the agricultural sector remains the second largest employer of women, after the services sector, if we exclude women’s work in unofficial or unpaid agriculture.
The percentage of women working in industry is 11.4% of the total number of working women. Their work is concentrated in manufacturing industrial activities, as the majority of these women work in clothing and textiles.
Under these conditions, many women are unpaid or receive their wages in kind. Others work for very low wages and under discriminatory work conditions, where many of their rights are ignored and denied, such as maternity leave or the weekly and annual holidays and vacations (according to the Jordanian Labour law, applicable in the West Bank), in addition to the inferior status of women in relation to men in the workplace.
3. Rural women in the informal sector:
According to the report on economic rights, the PNA has not paid sufficient attention to female villagers. No official Palestinian policies were formulated to support or strengthen rural women, whether through development programmes and plans that target these women, or seeking to encourage women to develop productive agricultural projects, or through creating sufficient incentives for these women to contribute to economic development within Palestinian society.
This responsibility has been left mainly to Palestinian grassroots organisations working in rural areas. Some of their activities have involved devising productive agricultural programs and projects for rural women, providing loans and financial aid, as well as support programmes to raise awareness amongst rural women of the important role they play in the development process.
As mentioned earlier, Palestinian society is principally rural, as 60% of the population live in rural areas and depend completely or partially on agricultural work. As such, 67% of working women are found in rural areas, which necessitates the formulation of social, cultural, health and economic programmes that target their needs and seek to improve their conditions.
The majority of workers in the informal sector in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are women, and rural women in particular, performing various tasks such as raising children, washing, sweeping, cooking, ploughing, harvesting, rearing the animals and the birds, picking vegetables, fruits and grains, storage, milking the goats and the cows, making yoghurt, cheese and milk, seeding, milling, picking olives and storing them, weeding, storing food, grazing the animals, cleaning, weaving, sewing, carrying water, marketing excess production, and so on.
All of these tasks go unrecognised in terms of contributions deserving of economic value because they do not fit into the official consideration of paid labour. This is despite the fact that unpaid, female work has a wide and qualitative impact on families’ standards of living and level of consumption. Labour of usage value does not, from the point of view of economists, generate income directly. The importance of such work, from our point of view, is its capacity to provide additional goods that reduce spending. However, it is not considered - according to the common definition - to be work, and the result is that women do not receive any economic rights in return for their efforts, except what is normally given to them by their husband or relevant male.
The woman does not benefit from returns on her work in the family farm, while her efforts do not generate any rights or privileges similar to what would be received from paid labour. She receives neither income and moral satisfaction nor legal entitlements and privileges.
Right to loans
Various studies and statistics indicate that the number of male beneficiaries of loans exceeds the number of females. This is not necessarily related to the existence of discriminatory legal or administrative processes, but is a natural result of a normative social context in which the view is that business is a male domain, and places women in an inferior position to men. Women’s credit institutions are also restrained, as there are only five institutions with limited financial resources. Credit institutions that provide services to women form only 4.8% of the total non-governmental and bank credit institutions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There are no official governmental policies to encourage granting loans to women, and the issue has been left to private credit institutions and non-governmental organisations.
Feminising poverty and unemployment
The phenomenon known as the "feminisation of poverty" is very dangerous, particularly if we consider that the situation of families supported and headed by women is far worse than poor families supported and led by males. Of the poor families with women at the helm, 73% are suffering from dire poverty (i.e. they are unable to meet the minimum level of their basic needs of nutrition, clothing and housing), as compared to 63% of the poor families headed by men. It is to be noted that families headed by women represent 9.5% of all families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The poverty rate amongst families headed by women is 36%, while it is 22% amongst families headed by males.
This phenomenon is exacerbated by objective elements that have historical, religious, economic and cultural roots, which prevent the wide participation of women in official income-generating labour. These are the same elements that force women to work at home and determine social functions for them, placing them in a vulnerable limited circle that is very difficult to break out from, in the absence of progressive awareness building and empowerment processes.
Women and unemployment
The various statistics indicated that the highest rate of unemployment is among women who have completed 13 or more years of study, and within the age group of 25-44. The lowest rate of unemployment is amongst illiterate women. Unemployment amongst women who have studied for 7-9 years is 13%, 19% amongst those who studied for 10-12 years, and 56.2% amongst those who studied for more than 13 years.
We thus see a statistical correlation between the level of women’s education and the rate of women’s unemployment - as the former ascends, so does that latter.
Disparity in salaries and wages
Despite the fact that the law in the West Bank and Gaza Strip prohibits discrimination based on gender, or discriminatory salary schemes for the same work, employers often and consistently ignore the law. This is the result of the absence of a clear and specific policy on salaries in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The issue is left to be determined by the market principle of ‘supply and demand’.
Women’s salaries and wages in the West Bank are 33.8% less than men’s, while, in Gaza, they are 18.7% less. This discrimination is spread horizontally across all professions. The difference in the average total salary between a man and a woman in the West Bank reaches almost 29.3 shekels daily. This means that women are paid, on average, 66.2% of what men are paid in the West Bank, and 81.3% in the Gaza Strip. In general then, the salaries of working women are clearly very low - in particular, in sectors such as sewing, weaving, secretarial work, hair dressing, nurseries, agriculture, and housekeeping.
Working women and labour law
The Jordanian Labour Law #21 of 19—, amended in 1965, is still effective in the West Bank, while the Palestinian Labour Law #16 of 1964 is effective in the Gaza Strip. Additionally, Israeli military orders are superimposed onto the legal system, altering some of the existing laws.
According to the applicable law, 27% of the female workforce in the agricultural sector is not covered under this law. Neither are women working without pay in family businesses. The percentage reaches 76.1% in West Bank and 82% in Gaza Strip, as there are many small family agricultural lands and family businesses. Women who are paid to work in agriculture do not enjoy legal protection, which is also true of women working in small projects (businesses) that employ family members or less than five workers (irregular institutions), as around 73% of industrial companies employ less than five workers for each company, and around 33% of clothing and textile workshops employ only one worker.
The most significant problems of Palestinian working women’s participation can be summarised as follows:
1. Low percentage of women’s participation in the official production process. This percentage does not exceed 13% of the total number of working-aged women, whereas the lowest percentage of males’ participation reached 67% between the years 1995-1997.
2. Marginalising the female work force, as 84.2% of women in West Bank and 93.1% in Gaza Strip are outside the workforce in the official economic process.
3. High percentage of unemployment: this percentage ranges between 13%-20% in West Bank and Gaza Strip
4. Illiteracy: The illiteracy rate amongst women remains high, as 23.7% of women in West Bank and 21.4% in Gaza Strip are illiterate.
5. High fertility rates and domestic burdens, as the average number of family members is between 6-7, meaning a large number of children and a huge increase of domestic chores, which consume all of a woman’s strength and efforts.
1- Work to enact laws based on equality between the sexes, particularly in the fields of labour law and national insurance law, as these provide guarantees and economic and social rights for working women.
2- Accelerate the process of implementing Palestinian Labour Law #4, of 2000, regarding minimum wage, as this will contribute to the improvement of the income of thousands of families and working women, who are currently paid proportionately less money than men.
3- Work on a strategy to incorporate and integrate women in the official economic process by providing job opportunities, creating an environment to facilitate the participation of women in the workforce (including childcare, kindergartens, a health system for pregnant women and babies, the inclusion of working women in all forms of legal protection, compulsory education, raising of the minimum age required for marriage, and others).
4- Work on developing legal awareness amongst working women, as it is clear that there is little awareness amongst them regarding their economic, social and cultural rights.
5- Formulate official Palestinian policies to integrate women within the economic workforce, such as adopting a special loan system to assist working women in the informal sector or small businesses.
6- Grant rural women special attention, as well as women working in rural areas, through the formulation of economic, social, cultural and health programs and projects that target rural areas, seeking to improve economic and social conditions.
5. FAMILY RIGHTS
By Sama Aweidah
The Personal Status Law is considered one of the most important laws for women because it is strongly linked to their daily lives. This is particularly true for Palestinian women, the majority of whom are housewives and for whom the laws that are principally relevant are those related to the domestic realm. Indeed, the personal status laws impact most profoundly on women, whose rights and role within the family are regulated by them. The provisions of the personal status law also directly impact on other legislation, as well as women’s employment rights. For example, having access to and control over financial resources in the family can impact on the possibility of having access to and control over training and awareness-raising programmes, which can detrimentally affect women’s status in the labour market.
This can also affect the woman’s ability to attain high positions in decision-making processes and public life, which require a high level of training and skills as well as access to necessary financial resources (such as in election campaigns).
It should be noted that even with the Declaration of Independence, the general legislative framework in the West Bank and Gaza has not dramatically changed. The President of the PNA and Chairman of the PLO, Yasser Arafat, issued a presidential decree on 20 May 1994 endorsing and upholding all laws, regulations and orders that were valid up to 5 June 1967, the date when Israel occupied the Palestinian territories.
Hopes and optimism among Palestinians, and particularly among women, rose again with the election of first Palestinian legislative council in 1996. Women hoped for a better personal status law and complementary legislation. We argued that existing law is based on blatant discrimination against women, which has often culminated in treating women as third class citizens, after men and children, as this report will presently show.
The judicial system
Litigation in the special religious courts suffers several setbacks that add more burdens and heighten discrimination against women. The most important of these are the slow, inefficient procedures in place to settle disputes between husbands and wives. In Christian church courts, reaching a settlement will often take a painfully long time, while the execution of rulings takes even longer, causing more suffering.
Adding insult to injury, the judiciary typically exhibits views of women as inferior, consistent with traditional cultural norms. This is particularly apparent in cases of divorce and child support, in which women are looked down upon and treated with scorn. A divorced woman is treated as though she has been “indicted” for failing to try to sustain the marriage. Among other burdens is the high cost of litigation, particularly in support and custody cases. Some of these cases are referred to arbitrators appointed by the court, which involves an even greater financial burden for women who cannot typically afford to pay. In some cases, arbitrators lack professional integrity and can be bribed into ruling in favour of men, who usually have better access to financial resources.
Additionally, arbitration tribunals are not subject to review procedures by the courts. Moreover, there is no executive apparatus responsible for the enforcement of arbitration decisions, such as child support. Enforcement gets very complicated when the parties to the action (the couple) are from two different areas falling under the jurisdiction of two different laws - for example, if the husband is from Jerusalem (under Israeli law) and the wife is from a town in the West Bank (under Palestinian or Jordanian law).
Discrimination in the Personal Status Law and its impact on Palestinian society
Palestinian Muslim women are subject to the Jordanian Personal Status Law of 1976, which is derived from the Jordanian Personal Status Law of 1917 and 1951. These two codes are based on the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence. No amendments have been introduced to these two laws, despite changes adopted in neighbouring countries such as Egypt and Syria, where amendments have been based on alternative religious interpretations. This has created a legislative gap in many cases concerning Palestinian women, as will be shown later. Only recently has the personal status law of the West Bank and Gaza been unified.
As for Christian Palestinians, each denomination is governed by the laws established by their respective churches. For example, the Greek Orthodox Church applies its laws to its followers (consisting of the Byzantine Family Law and the Patriarchate Law), principally Orthodox Patriarchate law #32 of 1941. The Roman Catholic Church applies the law of the Jerusalem Latin Patriarchate. The Coptic Church applies the Personal Status Law of the Orthodox Coptic Church, which was ratified by the General Coptic Council in 1938.
All the above named laws endorse discrimination between the sexes. Following is a summary of these discriminatory aspects13:
1) Marriageable age
The law of 1951 applicable to the West Bank allowed the judge to permit a 14 year- old girl to be married if it was deemed that she could handle marriage. However, the law of 1976 banned marriage of males who have not completed 16 years and females who have not completed 15 years of age.14 This contravenes the provisions of the UN Convention on the rights of the child, which stipulates that a child is any person up to 18 years of age.
In the Gaza Strip, the Gazan family law includes several provisions related to marriageable age. Article 15 of the law stipulates that the marriageable age for a male is 18 years, and 17 years for a female. However, article 6 of the same law stipulates that a judge may permit the marriage of a male under 18 and a female under 17 if he is convinced that they are mature. Ironically, Article 8 of the same law obliges the judge to forbid the marriage of a male under 12 and a female under 9, which effectively means that the minimum marriageable age in Gaza is 9 years for a female and 12 years for a male. In other words, it is left to the judge’s discretion to manoeuvre within the range of 9 to 17 years for a female, and 12 to 18 years for a male.
Sanctioning the early marriage of a girl violates Article 16, para.2 of CEDAW, which stipulates that: “the engagement and marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory.”
The laws applicable in the West Bank and Gaza allow polygamy for Muslims. Husbands are permitted to have up to a maximum of four wives at any given time. The law is based upon traditional interpretations of Islamic jurists. A number of contemporary Islamic jurists, such as the Tunisian, al-Tahet al-Haddad, have re-examined the Qur’anic verse relating to polygamy and come to the conclusion that polygamy ought to be banned. This interpretation was endorsed by Tunisian law, which is also based on Islamic principles.
Unfortunately, other Arab countries, including Palestine, have failed to adopt progressive interpretations of Islamic law relating to polygamy. Thus, the persistence of legalised polygamy complements and heightens the inferior status of women in Palestine. Article 14 of the personal status law applicable to the West Bank stipulates that: “he who is married to four wives or any of whom is potentially pregnant cannot marry another woman.” This means that any man can marry four women.
It should be noted that state procedures are committed to upholding such legislation, particularly in official forms such as passports and some other forms used in the Public Personnel Department, where a man is provided enough space on the form to register up to four wives under the category “name of spouse”, where a serial number from 1 to 4 is printed.
3) Name of the wife after marriage
The existing laws stipulate that married women should adopt the family name of their husbands. These laws contravene Article 16, paragraph (g) of CEDAW, in which it is stipulated that: “the same personal rights as husband and wife, including the right to choose a family name, a profession and an occupation.”
For Muslim women, there is no religious justification for this. However, registration procedures require the automatic change of the woman’s family name to that of her husband.
The right to file for divorce, under existing laws of the religious courts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, is a prerogative afforded to men and which they are free to exercise at will. The law allows a man to divorce his wife without even consulting her. In some cases, divorce initiated by the man is pronounced ’in absentia’ (the wife is not even consulted or
Under Church law, divorce may only proceed in the following cases: 15
If it is discovered that the woman is not a virgin, provided that the male promptly refers the case to religious officials.
If it is shown that the woman is intentionally trying to refrain from getting pregnant (of course, the main objective of marriage is reproduction).
There is clear text in which the husband can divorce his wife if she is found to be unfaithful, or if the wife spends a single night away from home against her husband’s wishes, or if she spends her time acting, fishing, swimming, and so on.
In the event of adultery, the husband can promptly ask for divorce.
In the event of a marriage dispute, after the court has ordered the wife to obey her husband and she consistently refuses to for three years, the husband can apply for a divorce.
Christian women may petition for a divorce in the following cases:
If the husband is sick.
If the husband takes the virginity of the wife and alleges adultery against her, but fails to prove it.
If the husband commits adultery with another woman in the same country and in the house after his wife has asked him to refrain from doing so.
In the event of not spending money on her and leaving her for 5 years.
All Muslims and Christians residing in Palestine abide by the Shari’a (traditional Islamic law) in the calculation of inheritance. This ascribes to women a share equal to half of the male share upon the death of parents. The laws also discriminate positively to the wife’s and children’s share if there is a son, as the presence of a male child will deprive the sisters and brothers of the deceased from inheriting, whereas the female child does not, so her uncles and aunts share with her the inheritance. These laws also discriminate between a husband’s share of his wife’s inheritance, and a wife’s share of her husband’s inheritance.
Despite the deficiency of this law and its failure to give males and females the same share in inheritance, social norms that are still prevalent in many areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (particularly in rural areas) prevent women from taking their legal share of the inheritance. This is largely the result of the absence of a deterrent penal law against such practices. By criminalising this practice and punishing offenders, the rights of women who are systematically deprived of their inheritance rights would be enforced and men would be deterred from submitting faulty inheritance documents that leave out the names of women inheritors.
According to Article 2, paragraph (d) of CEDAW, states are urged: "to establish legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men and to ensure, through competent tribunals and other public institutions the effective protection of women against any act of discrimination.”
Role of NGOs in effecting change in the situation
Working for gender equality in Palestinian society remains the mandate and responsibility of women’s organisations, whereas other civil society organisations have not found a role for themselves in this effort. This is due mainly to a lack of sufficient awareness of women’s issues and of the connection between women’s rights and issues of development, democracy and human rights.
Therefore, initiatives to effect change in the situation has been more or less restricted to the initiatives of women themselves, led and coordinated by women’s rights organisations and service centres, as mentioned in the introduction to this section. Work is currently underway to bring human rights organisations and civil society movements into the national campaign for a unified Palestinian Family Law.
Role of the PNA in effecting change in the situation
As discussed, the law applicable to the West Bank and Gaza Strip remains a multi-layered fabric of Ottoman, British mandate, Jordanian and Egyptian laws. Upon the arrival of the PNA, many of the laws were changed, including the amendment of the minimum age of marriage in the Gaza Strip, to bring it on par with the West Bank. A committee of religious court judges was established to investigate the religious laws of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in order to unify them and make necessary amendments, within the spirit (according to the Chief Justice) of the jurisprudence of the Hanafi school of thought. Until this date no amendments have been made.16 The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), on the other hand, has not since its inception, amended a single article of the personal status law, and has failed to work on enacting a unified Palestinian law applicable to all of the Palestinian territories (West Bank and Gaza) and to all Palestinians, male and female.
We conclude that there remain numerous gaps in terms of women’s domestic and personal rights that prevent women from enjoying full equality within the family. These gaps are summarised as follows:
1- Gaps related to discriminatory texts in the law, which explicitly codify discrimination based on gender. It is worth mentioning here that there is not a unified law effective in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
2- Gaps related to actual practices stemming from discriminatory societal attitudes towards women, which treat them as third-class citizens. This prevents women from realising some of their rights that are guaranteed by the law. A woman asking for her legal rights is considered someone who violates traditions and social values. For example, the law gives women a share in inheritance (though not an equal share), yet prevailing traditions often prevent them from exercising this right. A woman who asks for her share of the inheritance is considered, by some Palestinian communities, as someone who has violated sacred traditions, and risks being cast out from her family and community. The state’s policies do not effectively contribute to changing this culture. We still see deficiency in the role of school curriculum in this regard. We also continue to feel that the media not only refrains from raising gender awareness, but actually engages in a campaign to maintain and strengthen prevailing stereotypes, while government stands idly by.
3- Gaps in the judicial system, which have been explained in detail in this report. These gaps are clear in the rulings of some judges on issues that are not clear or not determined by effective laws. There is a lack of judicial integrity due to the absence of review procedures of judicial decisions. This is worsened by the immense amount of discretion that is afforded to judges, who are rarely held accountable for their decisions.
4- Gaps related to procedures. In this field, it is important to mention the weaknesses of the executive body to enforce the verdicts of the courts. Many women are suffering, for example, from difficulties in the enforcement of verdicts related to support payments. It is also worth noting that there are difficulties regarding the enforcement of verdicts in areas that fall under various political divisions, such as the implementation of verdicts issued in religious courts in the West Bank against residents of Jerusalem (who fall under Israeli jurisdiction), and other difficulties related to the division of the Palestinian areas into A, B and C. The lack of awareness amongst police officers regarding women’s issues, and the persistence of stereotype images amongst officers makes it difficult for women to gain equal and fair access to police services and protection.
Based on the above, we recommend the following:
1- At the legislative level
The need to draft a unified Palestinian Family Law for all Palestinians, male and female. The law should be based on international human rights conventions, particularly CEDAW. The law should take into consideration the following:
- Set the minimum marriageable age at 18 years (this is the age that would allow the girl to complete her compulsory education).
- Equality before the law in marriage and divorce, including the elimination of the parental consent requirement in marriage, enforcing the right to choose one’s spouse, upholding the equal and full access to divorce for both men and women, criminalising polygamy, and considering custody and access an equal right for both parties, to be determined on the basis of the “best interests of the child.”
- Deletion of the legal text regarding the house of obedience
- Equality in inheritance
- Granting both the husband and wife the same right to choose one’s family name, place of residence, profession, and the type of work.
- Incorporating a text within the personal status law that stipulates the right of a woman who has custody of her children to the matrimonial home, and the right of both spouses, in the absence of children, to divide the matrimonial properties and possessions equally.
2) At the activism level:
1. Devising legal awareness initiatives for women
2. Changing the school curriculum in a manner that confirms the equal rights of women within the family.
3. Monitoring the various media sources, urging them to alter the image of women that is portrayed in a way that emphasises women’s equal rights within the family.
3) At the judicial/legal level:
1) Establishing a distinct civil court to hear family law issues.
2) Establishing a higher court to hear appeals from religious or civil courts in order to ensure judicial accountability and fairness in the court system.
3) Organising training workshops for judges on gender issues.
4) At the procedural level:
1) Establishing a government fund for child and spousal support, through which support is paid automatically and immediately to the divorced woman and her children, and the state is responsible for collecting the money owed from the husband.
2) Stipulating that all marriage and divorce contracts must be documented in the civil records of the state.
3) Initiating appropriate procedures for visitation rights by the non-custodial parent, taking into consideration the parents’ right to see their child, and also considering the “best interests of the child”.
6. HEALTH RIGHTS
By Victoria Shukri
One of the biggest challenges for Palestinian women in terms of health rights is to obtain health services equal to those received by men. The reason for this is the marked discrimination in favour of men, who receive qualitatively better health services than women. This finding is based on the data contained in the report, Men and Women in Palestine.5
It is important that a vision is formulated in which women’s health is viewed in a comprehensive context, rather than restricting it to reproductive health only. Social services should appropriately provide for women’s health during all stages of the woman’s life, starting from infancy up to old age. Awareness of this need was raised in the early 1990s, when civil society organisations adopted a comprehensive view of women’s health rights at both the World Conference on Population in Cairo in 1994, and the Beijing Conference on Women in 1995, where the view was endorsed that women’s health rights are fundamental to human rights and social justice. National, civil and health organisations, as well as local and international women’s movements shared this view, and their lobbying efforts were rewarded with the adoption of this comprehensive, inclusive view of women’s health rights.
CEDAW addresses women’s health rights in a number of articles, particularly in article 12(a), where it is stipulated that, “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services, including those related to family planning.” In paragraph (b) of the same article, it is stipulated that, “States Parties shall ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period, granting free services where necessary, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation."
Women’s health and relevant factors
It is important to consider the unique state of affairs in Palestine, in terms of social and political changes. Palestine is passing through a rough transition from being a traditional society towards the path of modernity, a transition which is sure to raise health-related problems. Moreover, the political changes in the country over the past eight years have been immense, particularly with the assumption of power of the PNA, which is now the authority governing the health sector. As a result of these and other changes, we can identify a number of direct and indirect factors that impact on women’s health:
Direct factors affecting women’s health
The absence of policies designed to improve the status of women and overcome problems such as malnutrition during the several stages of a woman’s life, make many Palestinian women susceptible to diseases such as anemia.6 Other factors, such as early marriage, early pregnancy, and recurrent and successive pregnancies also adversely impact on women’s health. The average age of marriage in Palestine is 18.7 years for females, and 23.7 years for males. Forty percent of females who were married in 1998 were under 18 years old.7 Added to this, is the lack of health services provided to women, and the unjust distribution of such services, the majority of which are concentrated in the centre of the West Bank.
Moreover, health services for women often operate from a curative perspective and are based on visible symptoms, rather than focusing on comprehensive healthcare, including prevention, wellness and psycho-emotional dimensions. Added to this, is the marked absence of governmental support in the form of medicare to ensure that women are able to receive critical services necessary for the protection of their health rights.
There is also the direct impact of inadequate laws on the status of women’s health, such as legislation related to marriageable age, polygamy and divorce. Additionally, there is a serious lack of health awareness and services available to adolescent girls. Finally, women are deeply affected by the prevailing culture and values that promote the inferiority of women. This is particularly evident when dealing with issues of pregnancy and childbirth.
Indirect factors affecting women’s health
The inherited legacy of patriarchy and its impact on social education and values shapes health priorities and affects the services available to women. The problem is worsened when it is coupled with economic hardships, particularly in families where women are the principal income-earners. Added to this is the political situation, namely the Israeli occupation, which was in control of the health sector for a long time.
The years of occupation have devastated the Palestinian health sector, as Palestinian interests were never a top priority, and the interests of Palestinian women were even less important. Health services at that time failed to conduct surveys or studies to assess the health needs of the Palestinian population in order to promote and develop a better health system. There were no statistics or information to give an overview of women’s health, especially mental health and services such as abortion, addressing infertility, and monitoring the condition of the breast and uterus. Added to the above, were insufficient materials related to sex education, adolescence and women’s and children rights, as well as poor audio/visual educational materials to change behavioral patterns. The lack of such matierals indirectly impacts on the status of women’s health, given that monitoring, studying and educating are important factors in the promotion of a healthy society.
Health services provided to women
The health system consists of health services offered at two levels: primary and secondary health care. These services are provided by 4 sectors:
1. Ministry of Health
Since its arrival, the PNA has accorded special attention to the health sector in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and is second only to education in terms of funding from the state’s development plan. However, health services provided for women are insufficient and are often therapeutic rather than preventative and consultative.
When the PNA assumed power in 1994, women’s health was accorded importance and was placed as a top priority. The Centre for Health Management and Women’s Development, together with other health NGOs, initiated a strategic national health plan strengthened by awareness raising campaigns. The plan is supervised by a national committee comprised of representatives from the entire governmental and non-governmental health sector. The committee focused on developing health services, and introducing preventative and counselling programmes, paying special attention to adolescence and menopause, mental health, and factors affecting mental health such as reproduction and sexual health. The committee also affirmed the policies and laws related to women’s health.
UNRWA provides primary health care services to Palestinian refugees, who comprise 32% of the overall population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It also provides a set of preventative and therapeutic services. In the mid-1990s, UNRWA services were reduced, particularly in terms of hospital transfer permits. As a result, thousands of women were denied access to health services, presenting serious risks to the security and well-being of refugee women, and of the population in general.
There are several NGOs providing medical services to women in Palestine. These NGOs played a critical role during the years of the Israeli occupation because they provided many health services that were otherwise unavailable, given the lack of governmental services at that time. NGOs played a significant role in 1987, upon the outbreak of the Intifada, despite all the restrictions imposed by Israeli military forces, which obstructed Palestinians from accessing basic medical care.
4. Private sector
This sector provides a number of therapeutic services pertaining to secondary health care, in addition to various diagnostic tests. The sector comprises of individual practitioners, private hospitals and private medical companies, which supervise 30.7% of public hospitals, and 13.2% of delivery beds.
Health care through the stages of life
1. Infancy and childhood
Children under 18 years comprise 53% of the total Palestinian population, of whom 49.1% are females and 50.9% are males. Sex discrimination starts before birth and is embedded at birth. Families rejoice over the birth of a boy, and mothers who give birth to boys are accorded special status within the family, while baby girls are viewed as less of a blessing and even, at times, as a misfortune. Discriminatory attitudes are fuelled by social norms and values, which teach that the role of little girls is to grow up to be a good wife and mother.
Adolescent girls comprise 49% of the total number of children. The challenges of adolescence are present in the multi-layered changes thatgirlsundergo, in terms of social, psychological and physical changes. For this reason, adolescent girls need an understanding and supportive family, and a tolerant social environment in which policy makers and service providers are there to guide them safely and soundly through the complexities of adolescence.
Only recently has policy attention been directed at the issue of adolescent education and health. Counselling and awareness-raising have been incorporated in educational syllabi, although on a limited scale. What is needed is a stronger emphasis on sex education, in order to better inform adolescents, both boys and girls, of the changes occurring in their bodies. Current data indicates that 40% of adolescent girls suffer from some form of malnutrition or anemia, coupled with immense social and psychological stress.
Women at childbearing age comprise 43.5% of the total number of women in Palestine. In 1997, they comprised 19.2% of the total Palestinian population. The fertility rate in Palestine is extremely high compared to global and even Arab-world standards. This is related to various economic, social and political factors. This report has dealt extensively with the factors that affect women’s health during this stage of life - factors such as family planning, death of mothers and menopause.
Women in the 50 - 64 age group comprise 6.8% of the Palestinian population. At this stage, women generally believe that their function in life has ended with the closing of their reproductive capabilities. Such women are exposed to psychological and social pressure. The medical service provided to them is routine, and some patients are treated as though they suffer chronic diseases. There are no documented or accurate statistics on these chronic diseases, which can be treated, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart diseases. At this age, women may also suffer from osteoperosis, which results from malnutrition and poor health habits. This is common amongst women, who often have neglected their own health in caring for the members of the family.
5. Old age
Old women are the most marginalised members of society and whose rights are most commonly violated, as they are the most susceptible to isolation and poverty. At this age, old women are more exposed to loneliness and negligence than any other time in their lives, even though they may be cared for by their extended families, which make up 27.7 % of all families. It should be noted that there are no specialised programs targeting old women, nor are there any social clubs of any sort. There are some retirement homes, which offer hospital-like care for the infirm and elderly.
Over the past two decades, we have witnessed major developments in the advancement of women’s health and legal conditions in Palestine. However, the state of affairs, particularly in terms of healthcare and legislative protection and equality for women, remains highly inadequate. Indeed, the advances we have witnessed are still insufficient, for they do not meet the particular needs of women, as indicated by studies and statistics, the authorities upon which this report is based.
The continued shortcomings of women’s rights protection in Palestine has strengthened our conviction to work for justice for women, and to double our efforts to strive for the elimination of all forms of sex discrimination in a manner that will promote sustainable development and social justice within Palestinian society.
We also believe that it is important to achieve equality between the sexes in their attainment of political, economic and social rights. We seek to provide the required resources and establish the necessary conditions to enable women to work for progress in a way that will afford them freedom and dignity.
We are fully committed to the provisions CEDAW, but we also wish to confirm that women should have complete autonomy over their bodies, including the freedom to decide issues related to pregnancy, reproduction and participation in health policy-making.
Women should be invited to participate in the formulation of legislation that will affect women at various stages of life. Women should be allowed to make their own decisions about reproductive health so that they can devise a comprehensive concept of women’s health, work for the qualitative improvement of health services available to women, and ensure equal and just access to medical facilities for all.
At the same time, we cannot ignore the ongoing factors that negatively impact on the status of women’s healthcare, such as the lack of data, education, awareness and services pertaining to reproductive and sexual health, particularly amongst youth. More research is needed to better assess the status of women’s healthcare in the Palestinian territories, so that policies and programmes can be adopted to effectively aim for the improvement of women’s health.
Moreover, reality indicates that health service providers do not accord enough respect, attention and appreciation to women. They need to be trained and educated. More medical staff must be trained in reproductive health, and finally, women must be allowed to participate in the evaluation of health policies and services.
1. Work on prevention and safety, particularly ensuring safe working conditions for women and the protection of the profession of delivery.
2. Provide special care for women during pregnancy, and prevent all types of work that may harm their health.
3. Provide a ‘child allowance’ and other supportive services, such as subsidised or free childcare and kindergartens.
4. Raise the marriageable age for women to 18.
5. Provide better quality medical services for women in rural areas, towns and refugee camps.
6. Direct medical services toward wellness and not only to established indicators of women’s health.
7. Establish an overseeing and follow-up system to guarantee the sustenance and execution of policies and national health protocols.
8. Focus on awareness-raising services and counselling for both sexes, particularly during the adolescence stage.
9. Include the media in awareness-raising and counselling, and consider the media as a most important means of influencing and effecting change in social behavioral patters and attitudes.
10. Focus on researching and studying several indicators that affect the welfare and health of women, such as abortion, infertility, mental health, adolescence and menopause.
11. Coordinate amongst healthcare providers in order to strengthen, develop and monitor spending.
12. Train and improve the level of understanding amongst health service providers of women’s health rights, including mental, physiological and physical health.
13. Provide services to conduct breast cancer exams at an early stage, as well as uterus and bone density tests.
14. Guarantee the highest levels of health and nutrition for girls.
15. Guarantee women’s right to obtain detection services for chronic diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
16. Raise women’s awareness of social, health and reproductive issues.
The following gap analysis report is a summary of a 235-page report , available only in Arabic.
Jerusalem Centre for Women, Documentation of the 1996 General Elections from a Feminist Perspective.
Jad Islah, "The Palestinian women’s movement and legislative elections," in Palestinian Policy, a journal dealing with Palestinian politics, published by the Palestinian Study and Research Centre, Vol. 3, Issue 9, Winter 1995, pp. 19-39. As for female registered voters, the Jerusalem Women’s Center estimates the percentage was only 42%
The Jerusalem Center for Women, supra , p. 24.
Ghazi al-Sourani, “Elections Law and the Current State of Affairs.” Al-Quds Daily, 9 November 1995 ( Abu Ghaseeb, Itaf, supra).
Salim Hasan, “Women in political parties: Between discrimination and ambition,” Centre for Women’s and Family Affairs, appearing in the gazette, Voice of Women, Team of Women’s Affairs ( a bi-weekly newspaper dealing with social issues), Issue no. 91, 10 Feb 2000, p. 4.
The Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, Men and Women in Palestine: Trends and statistics 1998, p. 136.
Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, Man and Woman in Palestine: Trends and statistics. (1998) pp. 159-84.
First draft of the Palestinian Nationality Code, 1995. It is a draft that was not well dealt with and was not circulated for amendments.
Refer to the above source.
Same source as above, p. 85. For more information, please refer to the chapter related to family rights in this report.
Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Demographic survey in the West Bank and Gaza, 1996.
Palestinian Central Bureau for Statistics, Survey of the Workforce, annual report 1997, October 1998, p. 62-63.
We mention as an example, the role and the contribution of Agricultural Relief Committees, a Palestinian public non-governmental organisation, that works to promote sustainable development in Palestinian society through agricultural and production projects that target rural women and seek to develop their productivity.
Ibid, p. 34
Hisham Awartani, Determining the pioneer sectors: Palestinian employment program, Ministry of Labor, Project Report number 3 of 1998, p. 28.
13 Only some of the discriminatory issues have been highlighted in this summary. If you wish to obtain a detailed view of all the discriminatory aspects, please refer to the special part on family rights, in the report on the Status of Palestinian Women based on CEDAW (wclac)
14 Towards Equality: An examination of the status of Palestinian women in existing law, WCLAC, 1995.
15 Towards Equality, supra.
16 Lynn Welchman, Islamic Family Law, WCLAC, 1999 (in English).
5 the Report ’ Man and Woman issued by the Central Bureau of Statistics, 1998
6 Man and Woman issued by the Central Bureau of Statistics, 1998