Last night Phil Weiss did a post on his observations of women’s roles in Gaza. Seham, a young Californian of Palestinian ancestry and a regular contributor here, had this response:
This didn’t make me cringe like I thought it would, just once when you said, "I think the pro-Palestinian movement has to come to terms with the question of women’s roles in Palestine as it does outreach to a larger American liberal coalition." The pro-Palestinian movement in the U.S. is very progressive, I think it’s actually more progressive than many of the other movements that are uni-dimensional and refuse to acknowledge the Palestinian issue. I have seen pro-Palestinian contingencies at just about every progressive rally or march in San Francisco. But it all depends on what or how the definition of "progressive" is and how it is applied. But Phil, all of the pro-Palestinian/Arab organizations that I have ever come in contact with in the U.S. and Occupied Palestine have women in critical leadership positions.
You said, "Those girls were going down a separate path from the boys, and, it would appear, a more limited one, ordained by authorities." It may be true that some girls and boys are on different paths, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since this year’s smartest people in Palestine were females. #1 Tala Al-Battia earns highest Tawjihi test score in Palestine. #2 Du’a Nathmi Abdullah Al-Ja’bari.
Gaza hasn’t always been this conservative, and the conservatism that you see now isn’t because of Hamas–it’s a result of the occupation, just like Hamas is a result of the occupation. It’s about the pecking order that always comes into play in any society that is controlled by violent means. Gaza would not be as conservative as it is now if there was no occupation. People don’t turn to religion for relief or consolation when they’re doing well socially and economically they do it out of desperation. I know I am supposed to condemn manifestations of sexism wherever I see them, and I do, but it would seem dishonest for me to simply say, "Palestinians, particularly those in Gaza need to do more to advance the role of women in society" without stating that the primary reason why more people are covered up in Gaza versus the West Bank is because of how much more severe the occupation has been in Gaza, historically and to date. But even in Gaza, if you were to ask Palestinian women to list their top five complaints, I don’t think that "their role" would make to the top 5. Most of the Gazan women that I have spoken to told me about how dehumanizing and degrading Israeli treatment of them is. They want to know, specifically, how Israelis can live with themselves treating women, just because they are Arab as though they are subhuman, worthy of less respect than a stray dog or cat. Left to expose themselves in the middle of a road or checkpoint as they give birth because the Israeli soldier manning the checkpoint places no value or dignity on the health of Palestinian women or babies.
I think Palestinians are already on the right path towards progress on women’s issues. Clearly, the educational system in Occupied Palestine is benefiting females, and though there are some real issues that women face, they are more progressive than other Muslims and Arabs, there are female Shariah judges. Is the situation perfect? Probably not, but it isn’t perfect here either. Maybe as a female born and raised in the U.S. I would feel uncomfortable in Palestine going to an argileh bar or hotel which are predominately frequented by men but I’d feel much more safe walking down any street in the OPT (without hijab, even) than I would walking down any street in San Francisco.