Conditions of Women
Women living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank face substantial social discrimination and inequality. The Palestinian struggle against Israel has fostered an active and strong women’s movement that was an integral part of the national struggle. During the intifada, many women directly participated in protests and resistance to the Israeli government. Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, this movement has begun to expand to deal with discrimination, violence, and other issues that affect the lives of Palestinian women. But these groups have been limited by a lack of resources and by cultural resistance to social change.
Various surveys tend to show that there is high support for women’s political rights and a similar level of support for women’s economic rights – but in areas which concern changes in property relations between men and women or in the re-distribution of power within the family or marriage there is a radical drop in support for an expansion of women’s rights . Highest support is scored for women’s political rights (in terms of voting rights and holding political office) and there is also a relatively high acceptance of women’s political and leadership abilities.
Palestinian women are playing a larger role in the economy, comprising 35% of total domestic job growth in 1999. Women tend to be primarily employed in the agricultural, services, and public services sectors of the economy. Renewed conflict with Israel has had a devastating effect on the Palestinian economy, sharply reducing the GDP since the conflict broke out and, by default, delaying progress in addressing issues of discrimination against women in employment.
Women have participated less in street protests and fighting in the Al-Aqsa intifada than during the previous intifada. Some have observed that women have been more removed from the violence because clashes take place at Israeli checkpoints at the borders of communities. Women and women’s groups have been active in providing support and assistance to those injured in the fighting.
A final challenge facing the PNA is the high level of population growth. The total fertility rate (births per woman) is 7.0 in Gaza and 5.6 in the West Bank, well above the regional average of 3.5. Studies indicate that there is public interest in family planning, but the PNA continues to provide conflicting statements on the issue. The health and education ministries support family planning, and national contraceptive use is at 42%. At the same time, the PNA has seen population growth as a strategy to put pressure on Israel in land negotiations. This, combined with Islamic support for large families, has contributed to rapid population growth, particularly in the Gaza Strip.
Law of Personal Status
The personal status of Muslim women in the Gaza Strip and West Bank is dictated by Islamic law that serves as the basis for disputes over marriage, divorce, inheritance, child custody, and most other areas affecting women’s lives. The rise of Hamas and other Islamist groups have brought increasing demands for a return to “traditional” interpretations of Islam and the personal status of women. Although these debates have been sidetracked by the renewed tensions with Israel, Palestinian society remains divided on the issue. Gender-based violence is common in the nation, particularly as related to preserving family honor. Women’s groups report difficulty combating violence due to the social stigma against publicly discussing the issue.
In the 1996 elections in Palestine, women comprised 42% of voters, but their representation in government remains limited. Women fill only five of the 88 seats on the National Legislative Council (PLC). One minister in the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) is a woman. Some have suggested that the high levels of female illiteracy (25%) contributed to many women allowing male relatives to decide how their votes should be cast.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
The PA has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, but the convention's committee has actively supported projects aimed at improving the status of Palestinian women.