The Women’s Studies Center (WSC) was established in 1989 to fulfill the goals and mission of the Palestinian women’s movement by conducting field studies to assess the reality and needs of Palestinian women, and to devise programs to meet these needs. Over the course of time, particularly between 1989-97, specific units were developed within the Center to fill areas that we had determined were most urgent. These units include a women’s library, the first of its kind in Palestine, as well as a women’s education unit, which organized the first-ever festival for women, celebrating the achievements of Palestinian women and mobilizing the public for promoting and supporting the rights of women. Following the success of the first festivals, some participating organizations decided to join the Center.
Additionally, the Center has also established a women’s training unit, which provides the necessary training for improving the level of work of Palestinian women activists in both governmental and non-governmental institutions. Further, we have initiated a publication unit, which provides Palestinian society with the first-ever, specialized study on women’s affairs called Woman, issued latter in the name of All Women, in addition to Wameed, which was published in English. These have been just a few of the many studies published by the Center in both Arabic and English.
In 1997, due to changes that occurred in Palestine generally, and amongst Palestinian women in particular, the members of the Center deemed it necessary to re-evaluate the Center’s program of activities with a view to devise a new strategy that would meet the new reality. Thus, outside consultants were commissioned to evaluate our programs and policies. Their report was approved as a basis for the strategic planning workshops implemented later by the Center, in which we hosted many women’s movement activists from Palestine and Tunisia, as well as involving all of the members of the Center. Finally, we concluded by adopting a central vision and mission, which serve as a basis upon which our programs are devised and implemented.
WOMEN’S STUDIES CENTER VISION
The Women’s Studies Center is an independent, Palestinian, non-governmental organization that strives for the realization of the principle of equality between women and men. In the course of our work, we seek to mobilize the efforts of all women who believe in equality and share our commitment to the principle that women’s rights are indivisible from human rights. The Center focuses on working with female students, youth, teachers, community leaders and members of the media who are committed to our vision and need a venue in which to develop and express their beliefs.
The Center is also interested in reaching out to the ’other half’ of society by seeking to raise their awareness of the rights of women and by mobilizing them to participate in the defense and struggle for equality and women’s rights. The Center, through the efforts of members and friends, also targets decision makers in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), political parties, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), as well as private and public institutions, in order to implant an agenda that will consider the rights and needs of women in all aspects of legislation and development.
The Women’s Studies Center coordinates with any women’s center that shares our vision, as well as with human rights institutions, non-governmental organizations and women’s coalitions at the local, regional and international levels.
The Center accepts as guiding tools the international human rights covenants as well as local customs and values which conform to the principle of gender equality. We also gain inspiration from the achievements of the women’s movement locally, within the Arab world and around the globe. Thus, we work for the realization of the principles enshrined in the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, the International Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration on Combating Violence against Women, the AISHA (Arab Women’s Forum) Convention, the Statement of Rights and Justice issued by the Arab Women’s Court (Beirut, 1995), as well as other relevant pronouncements and documents which promote the rights of women.
The Center operates by devising projects to raise media awareness and which enhance the projects of other, like-minded women’s centers and human rights organizations. Such projects constitute a qualitative addition to the work of other women’s institutions, and help to crystallize a progressive Palestinian women’s discourse that reflects the achievements made by Palestinian women in particular, and women in general. Moreover, such projects are designed within a developmental framework and hold firm to the principle of equality between the sexes and are constructed on the belief that the rights of women are human rights.
The Center believes in the importance of teamwork, and also giving sufficient consideration to individual creativeness. Further, members of the Center show preference to the general interests of Palestinian women as well as the specific needs of individual women, while resisting the interference of the agendas of particular political parties in the overall mission of the Center. Members of the Center must meet specified conditions, namely commitment to the vision of the Center and support of relevant international conventions. This means that membership in the Center is solely on a voluntary basis, no one is coerced into supporting or joining us. Indeed, our membership focus is on quality not quantity, in the belief that the Center’s mission can be only achieved through the concerted efforts of those committed to the promotion of a progressive women’s discourse.
Palestinian women looking for a better future for themselves and for women in our society find the Center to be an active forum for the defense of women’s rights in Palestinian society. This is due to our efforts in challenging traditional gender roles and stereotypes, which operate to curb women’s freedom, restrict their intellectual and professional creativeness and limit their opportunity to live a life of their own choosing in the exercise of their fundamental human rights. Additionally, the Center is considered to be an arena for developing and training Palestinian women leaders, as well as an open venue for all individuals and institutions who are interested in studying the experiences of Palestinian and Arab women. The Center also serves as an important regional coordinator, networking between the various Arab women’s movements through its membership in the Arab Women’s Forum (AISHA). This network is instrumental in exchanging experiences and research studies between the various parts of the Arab world, promoting the achievements of various women’s movements and developing joint strategies for achieving our shared aims. Further, the Center works to identify and recruit new partners in the struggle for women’s rights at all levels - locally, regionally and internationally.
Women’s Studies Center at the Regional Level
The Women’s Studies Center is one of the founding members of the Arab Women’s Forum (AISHA), a network of progressive women’s institutions from across the Arab world. The Center has served as the central coordinator for AISHA since 1995. Through its role in this regional network, the Center has been exposed to most significant and active Arab women’s organizations and has had the unique opportunity to gain experience and insight from their work.
1 ) Fostering a broad awareness within Palestinian society of traditional images associated with women and the negative impact of these on the development process in our society. Lobbying public efforts towards change and the development of alternative perspectives that promote the role of Palestinian women and that ensure their equal participation at all levels of society.
2 ) Collecting and documenting research studies conducted by Palestinian and Arab women to serve as a resource from which to learn and devise strategies.
3 ) Promoting the creative potential of Palestinian women and investing in opportunities for them to flourish.
4 ) Breeding a young generation of leaders (males & females) who are aware of the social concepts related to gender and who are willing to form supporting institutions for the Palestinian women’s movement.
5 ) Producing, documenting and publishing audio and video media materials on women’s issues and gender, and making these materials available for all interested parties.
6 ) Monitoring and responding to media materials published in various forms, in order to develop these in a manner that promotes a positive image of Palestinian women and promotes the principle of equality between the sexes.
7 ) Networking between progressive Arab women’s movements and Palestinian women’s institutions that share the Center’s vision, in order to exchange experiences, promote achievements and devise strategies to achieve our common aims.