Palestinian women: Trapped between occupation and patriarchy

Reblogged from Random Shelling
Post: Palestinian Women: Trapped Between Occupation and Patriarchy
by 

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On a warm and bright Sunday morning, three-year-old Saqer was cuddling with his mother when she was shot several times in the head and chest. Dishevelled, tremulous, and smirched with his mother’s blood, Saqer was spotted by a neighbour pleading for help, but was unable to give utterance to what had just befallen his household. Saqer’s mother, Mona Mahajneh, had just been murdered in cold blood in front of his own eyes; the only suspect so far is his maternal uncle, whose detention has been extended in order to allow the investigation of the murder to progress.

Mahajneh, a 30-year-old mother of three from Umm al-Fahm in the Northern Triangle, is the latest martyr of domestic violence against Palestinian women in the Palestinian territories occupied by Zionist militias in 1948 (hereinafter referred to as the Green Line, Israel’s internationally-recognised armistice border). She tried to start a new life after her divorce, despite being separated from her other two children. However, in a patriarchal society, where divorced women are often dehumanised and treated like scourges and onerous burdens, Mona paid with her life for seeking independence and the freedom to choose.

Tragic Irony

Ironically, Mona was murdered only two days after a protest against killings of women under the cloak of “family honour.” On Friday, 26 April, the Committee Against Women Killings, a coalition of 20 Palestinian feminist groups, toured Palestinian villages and cities in the Green Line in two separate motorized processions. Dubbed “The Procession of Life,” the protest called for an end to the phenomenon of “honour” crimes. Two motorcades, one that took off from the Naqab in the South, and another from Kafr Manda in the lower Galilee, eventually converged for a joint protest in Kafr Qare’ near Umm al-Fahm. The processions passed through Palestinian villages in the South and the North, sending a vociferous message against violence throughout Palestine. Names of women killed by their family members, as well as placards and signs that read “No honour in honour crimes,” and “She was killed for being a woman” were raised on the cars. The impressive turnout for the protest and the media attention it attracted, however, could not prevent Mona’s murder.

This is not the first time that a Palestinian woman had been murdered shortly after a protest against gender-based violence. On 10 March of this year, Alaa Shami, 21, was stabbed to death by her brother in the northern town of Ibilline, just two days after International Women’s Day. On 7 February, 2010, Bassel Sallam fatally shot his wife, Hala Faysal, and left her to bleed in her bedroom. Hours before the murder, his father Ali Sallam, deputy mayor of Nazareth, participated in a demonstration against violence on women and gave a speech denouncing it.

Shocking Spike

Six Palestinian women have been killed in the Green Line so far this year, two more than those killed in all of 2012. Statistics provided by the Nazareth-based organisation Women Against Violence show an even more distressing picture: Since Israel ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1991, 162 Palestinian women in the Green Line have been killed by their husbands or other family members. Since 1986, 35 Palestinian women have been murdered in the towns of al-Lydd and Ramleh alone. Numbers provided by “Women Against Violence” also show that an overwhelming majority of the women killed in the Green Line are Palestinians. In 2011, for instance, 14 women were killed in the Green Line, nine of whom were Palestinians. Of the 15 women killed in 2010, ten were Palestinians. A total of eleven women were killed in 2009 and nine of them were Palestinian women. In that same year, 13 Palestinian women were killed across Gaza and the West Bank. Accurate figures about women killings in Gaza and the West Bank are harder to obtain, and not all cases are documented or covered by the Palestinian media, but by no means is the situation less disturbing than that in the Green Line.

De-Politicising Violence

A recent high-profile initiative targeting violence against women and challenging the concept of “honour” killings was the music video “If I could Go Back in Time,” released in November 2012 by the Palestinian hip hop group DAM. The moving music video, co-directed by Jackie Salloum and funded by UN Women, has drawn over 200,000 views and received positive feedback in Palestine and beyond. A major drawback of the video, though, was that it de-politicised violence against women and traded depth and intersectionality for populist drama and reductionism. As Lila Abu Lughod and Maya Mikdashi wrote in their critique of the video, “it operates in a total political, legal, and historical vacuum.”

When it comes to violence against women in the Middle East in general, and in Palestine in particular, there are two dominant and completely opposing paradigms: The first blames the violence on a backward tradition and an inherently misogynistic society, choosing to focus solely on the category of “honour” crimes, as if they represent the only form of domestic violence women are subjected to. The other paradigm, meanwhile, holds Israeli colonialism and its institutionalised discrimination responsible, claiming that one cannot expect women to be free when Palestine is under occupation. Both paradigms are obviously too simplistic and unrepresentative. They avoid asking the tough questions and ignore both the multi-layered reality and the politics of daily life that Palestinian women on the ground face.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Arab bourgeois feminist movements, including the feminist movement in the West Bank, shot themselves in the foot and chose to ally with tyrannical Arab regimes in order to promote their social rights through legislation. By standing with the authorities and power structures, they operated as a fig leaf for so-called “secular” dictatorships. Moreover, by opting for an elitist and apolitical “feminist” struggle, bourgeois feminists ignored that real social change cannot be brought about in the absence of political freedom, nor can it be achieved by groveling before a repressive system. Feminism is not just about fighting for gender equality; it is about shaking the hegemonic dynamics of power and domination. Gender subordination is a fundamental factor in this matrix of power, but it intersects with political oppression and exploitation on the basis of class, religion, ethnicity, physical ability, and related aspects of personal identity.

Despite its many structural problems and shortcomings, the feminist movement inside the Green Line, to its credit, understood early on that the personal cannot be separated from the political, precisely because the state of Israel plays an active role in marginalising Palestinian women and strengthening local patriarchal elements such as clan leaders and religious courts that oppress women. Most Palestinian feminists also never had the illusion that advancing the rights of Palestinian women can come from the Knesset, the Zionist parliament.

No Protection

It is naïve to believe that the police, a violent, militaristic, and intrinsically patriarchal organ of the state, could be genuinely committed to eradicating violence against women. It is even more naïve to think that Israeli police, a law-enforcement tool for the occupation, would be determined to abolish violence against indigenous Palestinian women unless it is under immense pressure to do so. The stories of Palestinian women who complained to the Israeli police about threats by their family members – only to be turned down by the police and later killed by their family members – are too many to recount. For instance, few months ago in Rahat, the largest Palestinian city in the Naqab, A young woman approached the social service office and reportedly informed the police that she feared for her life. Police officers reportedly told her to go back home, assuring her that she would be safe. Almost 24 hours later, she was found dead.

The latest incident occurred on 21 May, 2013: Two girls, aged three and five, were strangled to death in their home in Fura’a, an unrecognised Palestinian village in the Naqab. The girls’ mother had approached the police station in the nearby Jewish colony of Arad and said that her husband threatened to kill the girls, but her plea was ignored. These horrific events demonstrate marriage between the state – a patriarchal, masculinist entity – and the conservative patriarchal elements in the community.

The Israeli police treat domestic violence among the Palestinian minority as a “private affair” that should be left for the clan and its leaders to solve. It is much more comfortable for the police to link domestic violence against Palestinian women to “family honour” and thus absolve themselves of the responsibility to intervene under the pretext of respecting “cultural sensitivity.” Using this pretext to justify lack of enforcement of women rights stems from Israel’s racist presumption that the abuse and oppression of women are intrinsically tied to Palestinian culture and tradition. It also stems from Israel’s double standards in respecting and protecting multiculturalism.

On the one hand, Israel claims to respect the principle of multiculturalism to buttress and sustain the oppression of women. On the other hand, Israel shows little respect to multiculturalism when it comes to the recognition of minority rights: The ostensible status of Arabic as an official language is solely ink on paper; Palestinian culture, history, narrative, and political literature are intentionally snuffed out of school curricula; and collective memory is targeted through constant attempts of Israelification. In addition, the same Israeli police that evades its duty to protect women from domestic violence because it is a “family” affair is, in the end, has no such concern for “Palestinian family affairs” when its forces demolish homes and displace entire families on a regular basis in the Naqab.

Not only is protection desperately scarce in all of this, but so is accountability. The majority of cases involving violence against women are closed either for lack of evidence or lack of public interest. Although Israel, unlike many Arab states, does not have a provision in its criminal law that mitigates punishment for so-called “honor crimes,” women’s rights organisations repeatedly accuse the police of not investing enough effort in the attempts to find the killers and hold them accountable. Some of the worst cases of violence against women occur in Lydd, Ramleh and the Naqab. Those places also happen to boast some of the highest poverty and unemployment rates; they are also subjected to a targeted Israeli policy of extreme discrimination, denial of basic rights and services, and constant threats of eviction and home demolitions. Add to that the inaccessibility of the Israeli justice system for Palestinian and under-privileged women, and the social retribution that women face for approaching the police and complaining about their family members, and it should be no surprise, then, that Palestinian women do not trust the state to protect them.

Tacit Justifications

It all begins with the huge difference between the way Palestinian media covers the killing of a man and the killing of a woman: the first is often referred to as a “tragedy” while the latter is referred to as an “ambiguous incident”. When Palestinian politicians, religious leaders, and public figures are asked to speak out against women killings, they begin by blaming the police and then reiterate that violence against women is part and parcel of mounting violence in the Palestinian society in general. Indeed, hardly a day passes by without hearing of shooting or stabbing incidents involving Palestinian men in different Palestinian towns. So pervasive has violence been that almost 10,000 demonstrators flocked to the streets of Haifa – one of the largest protests in Haifa’s history – on 7 May to say enough is enough. People who conflate gender-based violence with violence in general ignore the reality that women are murdered simply for being women; they are also killed in places that are supposed to be the most secure, and by people who are supposed to be the closest and most intimate to them. It is trendy to voice condemnations and call for respecting women’s rights immediately after a woman is killed… and then to completely and utterly forget about it two days later and wait until the next killing. Women killings, under whatever euphemism, are only one manifestation of patriarchy. The root problem is much more entrenched and less spoken about.

The seasonal and rhetorical condemnation of physical violence against women by those who promote or remain silent over less visible forms of patriarchy helps explain the failure of the society as a whole to take a firm position on crimes against women, let alone prevent them. The Northen Branch of the Islamic movement, for instance, condemns physical violence against women while it rejects participation in mixed-gender political protests and segregates women in their public events. How can Talab Arar, a Knesset member for the Unified Arab List, have a moral ground to denounce violence against women when he is polygamous?

Misogyny and patriarchy are, by no means, exclusive to religious and conservative Palestinians. Many left-wing activists and politicians do not hesitate to use sexist language, give tacit justifications for sexual harassment, or claim that fighting for women rights is not a priority as long as we are under occupation. How can we ever be free, as women and Palestinians, when a protest leader and a poster boy of Palestinian popular resistance is implicated in sexual harassment and everything is done to cover-up for him? As long as Palestinian women are expected to push their demands for gender liberation to the fringe, and as long as a large chuck of the population cannot concede that women are structurally oppressed, women will continue to be killed with social and legal impunity.

A first step towards challenging the hegemonic lexicon of the local and colonial patriarchs would be to quit using the term “honour crimes,” even with quotation marks. Its very use legitimises the concept and gives the false pretence that “honour” is the real motive for the crime, when it is really only a guise to strip women of their autonomy and dignity. The second step is to speak out, for silence is complicity. Sweeping the ugly truth under the rug will not hide it; it will only make its force more brutal and intensify the cycle of violence that has literally destroyed the lives of large numbers of women over time. The third, and most important step, is not to wait for the police to protect us. Women should take up arms to protect themselves and organise street militias to combat sexual harassment.

Afghanistan’s Supergran Crimebuster on Wheels

Afghanistan Woman Village Chief

It’s unusual for a woman to be a leader in Afghanistan but Zarifa Qazizadah has become the country’s only female village chief through force of personality and determination to get things done – even if that means cross-dressing, wearing a false moustache and driving around on a motorbike at night.

“I tell the men of the village, all I want is your prayers,” she says. “When you have a problem, I’ll speak to the government on your behalf and whenever there is any disturbance at night-time, I’ll pick up my gun and come to your house to see what’s going on.”

When the mother of 15 first sought political office, and told local men she wanted to connect the village to the electricity grid, they laughed.

That was in 2004. She lost the election, but she got the electricity all the same, and two years later the men asked her to apply for the post of head of the village – Naw Abad in the country’s northern Balkh province.

Now she guards the electricity supply with a vengeance, and if anyone wires their home up and starts stealing it, they have to watch out.

“I can’t let that happen because we have to respect the law,” she says.

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Women in Power in Afghanistan

  • Habiba Sarabi became the first female governor in Afghanistan in Bamyan province in 2005
  • Fawzia Koofi was the first female deputy speaker of the Afghan parliament
  • One quarter of the seats in the Afghan parliament are reserved for women
  • Qazizadah is not the first woman to have held the position of village chief – another woman in a nearby village beat her to it, but she recently died

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“When something happens in the village at night and I have to react quickly, I’ll put on men’s clothes and ride my motorbike.”

Women in rural Afghanistan are rarely seen riding motorbikes alone and Qazizadah disguises herself, with the clothes and a fake moustache, to avoid attracting too much attention.

She has also been known to come to the rescue of her villagers by wrestling Jeeps out of ditches with a tractor.

“She does the type of work that even men are not capable of doing,” says Molavi Seyyed Mohammad, one of her local supporters.

Qazizadah does not take “No” for an answer.

To keep her promise to voters on the electricity supply, even though she failed in her bid to get elected to parliament, she travelled to the Afghan capital, Kabul, with her four-year-old daughter and went straight to the home of the Minister for Power, Shaker Kargar, demanding to speak to him.

He agreed to see her the following day in his office, and by the end of the meeting he had given his consent.

There was one problem – the village itself had to pay for the posts and cables.

Qazizadah, who had already sold some of her jewellery to pay for the trip to Kabul, borrowed money wherever she could and remortgaged her house to raise the necessary capital.

Only one third of Afghanistan's population have access to electricity

Only one third of Afghanistan’s population have access to electricity

Five months later, everyone in the village had electricity in their home. “It was only then that people recognised what I’d done and started to pay me back,” she says.

The income from the electricity system was poured into construction of a new bridge over a dangerous river, connecting the village with a major road.

Qazizadah also sponsored the building of Naw Abad’s first mosque. Unlike most mosques in the country, it is designed so that men and women pray together.

“When people saw the work I was doing on these projects, they would start to join in,” she says.

“Now people can pray in their own village and the local boys don’t have to go so far to learn how to read the Koran.”

All this is a profound achievement for a woman who was married at 10 years old – and just 15 when she became a mother.

For much of her young adult life, she lived in a very remote village with her husband’s family where, she says, she was little more than a servant.

During Taliban rule, she moved to the regional capital, Mazar-e-Sharif, with her husband, where she had her first taste of community work, volunteering to help parents get their children vaccinated. Covertly, she helped teach young girls to learn to read.

Now aged 50, with 36 grandchildren, she is head of the local women’s council, as well as village head, and hosts large meetings of local women in her home, encouraging them to follow her example.

“I was just a housewife like you,” she told a group of 50 women at one of her recent gatherings.

“But today I can have a meeting with 1,000 people. I can meet and discuss issues with authorities. In Western countries, women can become presidents. These women are brave and they can achieve a lot.”

Zarifa Qazizadah spoke to Outlook on the BBC World Service. Listen to the programme here.

via BBC News – Afghanistan’s supergran crimebuster on wheels.

Thursday Round-Up

Slavery in the Georgia school system, and teaching about sexism in the civil rights movement — (almost) just in time for MLK Day; Saudi women take baby steps toward political empowerment; Roe v. Wade celebrates its anniversary; Huxtables — hot or not? Who is your favorite Manic Pixie Dream Girl? And if YOU TOO blame the patriarchy, have I got a blog for you…

It’s a new Thursday Round-Up!

Education

Slavery Examples Used in Georgia Schools

A few weeks ago this hit the interwaves — A Georgia elementary school teacher was using slavery in math questions (really!), and when horrified parents turned to the school district, their concerns were basically dismissed.

♦ See videos and read more about it

“Each tree had 56 oranges. If 8 slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?”

“If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in 1 week?”

What the hell is going on in the US, people??

Discussing Sexism in the Civil Rights Movement

In the Internet age, high school kids are no longer limited to the by-the-[text]book material about key figures they learn about. If they look up Martin Luther King, for example, they will likely read about his infidelity, chauvinism, and other not-so-nice stuff in addition to his activism and struggle to promote civil rights and end segregation.

Teaching Tolerance, a project run by the Southern Poverty Law Center, published this guide to dealing with the complexity of multi-dimensional.

What do you think? Good? Bad? Excuses?

Politics

Activist Language

Last time, I wrote about microaggression. Only then did I find this site: http://microaggressions.com/

Saudi Women to Vote Without Male Permission

Recently, Saudi King Abdullah announced that women in his country would be allowed to run for office and vote in municipal elections without male approval. While widely lauded as a step in the right direction, Saudi male-guardian laws remain largely unchanged: women cannot drive, work, travel, marry or even go to hospital without the approval of their male guardian.

Roe v. Wade – What does it mean to you?

January 22 was the anniversary of the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision. Planned Parenthood launched this interactive site where everyone can write what Roe v. Wade means to her.

Gender and Socialization

Mansplaining

Why “Yes But” is an inappropriate response to misogyny

Trust Women week

January 20-27 is Trust Women Week!

Culture and Media

Huxtable Hotness

I have to admit I never really liked the show… But when I came across the Huxtable Hotness blog, it really cracked me up. Some weird form of nostalgia?

The Weekly Trope

From the TV Tropes entry on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope:

“Let’s say you’re a soulful, brooding male hero, living a sheltered, emotionless existence. If only someone — someone female — could come along and open your heart to the great, wondrous adventure of life…

It’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl to the rescue!”

Coined by Nathan Rabin in his review of Elizabethtown for the A.V. Club’s My Year In Flops, the manic pixie dream girl is that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”

If she’s hot, “quirky” and exists only as a means-to-an-end plot device, you’ve got yourself a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. (From one guy’s take on MPDG)

Natalie Portman in Garden State Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown

Blog of the Week

I Blame the Patriarchy

Not for the timid :)

This is from the About section:

You are reading I Blame The Patriarchy, the patriarchy-blaming blog that has been advancing the radical feminist views of Jill Psmith and/or Twisty Faster, a gentleman farmer and/or spinster aunt doing the butt-dance in Cottonmouth County, Texas, since 2004.

I Blame The Patriarchy is intended for advanced patriarchy-blamers. It is not a feminist primer. See Patriarchy-Blaming the Twisty Way for details.

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/