Ramallah: Despite the tangible achievement and noticeable representation of the Palestinian women at the highest levels in politics and business and work, many leading women who spoke to ‘Gulf News’, expressed dissatisfaction with the current situation, and have called for more serious and real representation of women in different sectors of society and recognition in the community.

“When talking about women’s rights, how much freedom does she have to be free one hundred per cent in making choices?” wondered Mona Haddad, AppMahal application digital marketing and strategic development officer.

Haddad has been working in this new field for 42 months, one which requires her to dedicate much of her time in dealing with technical issues. “Fortunately I chose this field which educated girls often avoid,” she said in an interview with ‘Gulf News’. She said Palestinian women use social media the most among Arab women “showing that Palestinian women are courageous, and there is nothing impossible for them,”

She believes social media can help women attain their rights.

Haddad recently joined a women’s group on Facebook called “She Means Business” which helps women support and learn from each other.

Haddad, who participates at regional and international social media and digital marketing forums, believes women will dominate social media and hi-tech markets soon. “Women vote, but they vote for who her husband, brother or father asks her to vote, so she gets her rights by men’s approval, she has equal rights by men’s permission. Woman will be truly free only when they can make 100 per cent free decisions in a male community,” she said

Suhair Freitekh, a political researcher and analyst based in Ramallah said Palestinian women’s success was only nominal, and they still remained weak in front of their fathers, brothers and husbands, who grant her rights that do not influence them. “The family males allows her to do her university study, but work permission is up to their approval,” Freitekh said.

Freitekh says that despite the existence of several Palestinian women rights unions, women there are still not united and do not back each other. She says, strangely, women themselves tended to fight successful woman.

A woman’s reputation in a conservative community like Palestine is still a sensitive issue, so when a woman comes under societal criticism, she prefers to pull back to protect her family’s reputation, she said.

Freitekh believes Palestinian women need more time to achieve their dreams of social justice. “Successful women are an exceptional phenomenon, who face society and family pressures and restrictions, and they overcome masculine authority and reincarnate the role of women and men in the same time” she added.

Prominent Palestinian TV anchor and female activist Rula Salameh said Palestinian woman are different from women around the world. She said Israeli occupation restrictions and pressures have created a strong will among women to live, succeed, and coexist in the face of various challenges created as a result of the Israeli occupation.

Nivine Sandouka, a women-activist and director of an establishment from occupied East Jerusalem, told Gulf News that several Palestinian women have suffered sexual harassment at the hands of Israeli soldiers at some West Bank checkpoints, which has scared off families from sending their daughters to work in other cities.

Women normally tend to choose jobs in teaching or as nurses which are acceptable by society and which does not require them to spend a lot of time outside their homes. However, when some intelligent girls manage to garner good grades in schools and get scholarships to study abroad, they are stopped from travelling abroad due to familial restrictions and opposition.

Various organisations around the world have spent millions of dollars in the past 22 years to support projects by local Palestinian women unions that aim to improve women’s status, awareness, education, and engagement in all sectors and activities.

Sandouka is disappointed that there have been no powerful women’s voices at the senior political level in favour of women’s rights, and believes that even those women who are named as ministers, are given portfolios in traditional roles such as Minister of Woman Affairs,

Nevertheless, Sandouka is happy that some women have succeeded in changing some laws, which had made the status of Palestinian women better than those in some Arab countries. She also pointed out that when the women’s affairs society decided to study obstacles facing Palestinian women in 20 areas of the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, there were many young men who were part of the researchers groups. This she said was an extremely encouraging sign of changing perceptions.

She said that the number of women achieving success was limited to the elite cases and it has not percolated down to to women generally.

Still, she said there was hope for the future. Palestinian women are today working in the private sector and are engaged in businesses and security sectors. She pointed out that two women ran for the position of Palestinian National Authority (PNA) presidency since its establishment in 1994, in addition to many who led political parties, city councils, and were working as police commissioners, ambassadors and ministers.

She said Palestinian woman had reached positions of power either due to familial power or support, such as in local councils through the support of political parties “I have never seen a distinguished woman reach a high position except through the power of her political party,” Jihad Abu Znaid, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) from occupied East Jerusalem told Gulf News yesterday.

Palestinian woman have joined forces with men in the struggle against Israeli occupation over the past 50 years, so they should get equal rights to share everything like men do, women activists say.

PNA President Mahmoud Abbas is a major supporter of woman occupying important positions in the PNA. It may be noted that the governor of Ramallah for the last few years is a woman, the religious general prosecutor is a woman and the ex-Ramallah Mayor was also a woman,

Living under foreign occupation has impacted Palestinian women’s achievement and dreams, and activists believe they are deeply affected by the Israeli occupation as they remain forever concerned about the future of their children and their safety, or end up being at the receiving end of male members of their family who, due to economic pressures, end up expressing their anger and frustration against them. “The Palestinian woman suffers due to the occupation, and traditions,” Abu Znaid said.

Palestinian women in the centre of West Bank are better off in terms of living conditions and rights, but those living in the countryside of the northern West Bank Jenin area, as well southern West Bank Hebron area, have it bad as they cannot complete their education, and are usually forced into early marriages or polygamy.

In a move to recognise the struggle of Palestinian women, the PNA decided three years ago to mark March 8 of every year as a public holiday. “The Palestinian women needs social justice, not equality,” Sandouka said.

— Mohammed Najib is a journalist based in Ramallah