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Palestinian Women Launch New Social and Political Initiative

By Linda Gradstein | The Media Line

August 24, 2016

EU Official Alessandra Viezzer (center) at launch of program. (Linda Gradstein/The Media Line)
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Working with European Union for funding

Ramallah, West Bank — Every year, 125 Palestinian women graduate university for every 100 men. But when it comes to getting a job, or helping to make policy, Palestinian women almost disappear.

“Women in Palestine hit a glass ceiling,” Dr. Hafia’a El-Agha, the Minister of Women’s Affairs in the Palestinian Authority, told The Media Line. “We need to translate the gains we have had made in the rate of education into empowering women. We need to translate that into a stronger woman who can say no to violence, and to a stronger woman who has a say in political life.”

El-Agha was speaking at the launch of an implementation plan of Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. “Resolution 1325 urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts,” the resolution reads. “It also calls on all parties to conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict.”

The Palestinian Authority is the second entity to come up with an implementation plan after Iraq. The plan envisions spending two million dollars, at least partly funded by the European Union (EU) for women’s empowerment initiatives. In the Gaza Strip, it calls for providing women with generators as Gaza only has electricity a few hours a day.

The plan also calls to train women to submit complaints against Israeli soldiers to the International Criminal Court (ICC), a body Israel believes is biased against them. Many Palestinians charge that Israeli soldiers routinely harass women at checkpoints. Israeli officials counter that women, as well as men, have been involved in a wave of stabbing and shooting attacks on Israelis over the past year.

“Palestinian women face constant aggression that leads to the separation, fragmentation and isolation of Palestinian society,” Mohammad Naciri, the regional director of UN Women said at the news conference. “It deprives women and girls of their basic rights, and limits their chances for social and economic empowerment.”

Naciri also said there is a connection between the occupation and domestic violence. In the past two years, since the fighting between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement in Gaza, domestic violence has increased dramatically in Gaza.
The program is being launched in cooperation with the European Union.

This program that we are launching today will strengthen not only girls and women’s voices in participation,” Alessandra Viezzer, the Head of Cooperation at the EU office in Jerusalem. “We encourage the strong participation of women in peace building and conflict resolution. We will also continue to support women’s increased participation in policy building and electoral processes starting with the local elections that will take place in October.

While women represent half of the population, they are significantly under-represented in both the public and private sectors. Viezzer said that in the 1970’s, 35 percent of Palestinian women participated in the labor force, while today the number is only 15 percent. She urged women to run in the upcoming local municipal elections in October.

Women also need to overcome patriarchal elements in their society, several here said. Women are often encouraged to stay home and take care of their families, rather than work.

“Some employers prefer to hire men because women might get pregnant and then leave the job,” Women’s Affairs minister ElAgha said. “This is something we have to fight against.”

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