“Women Between Patriarchy and Colonialism: Women’s Experience in a Colonial Context”

An International Conference held at An-Najah University, Nablus, Palestine. Sponsored by the General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW) and the University. April 15 and 16, 2019.

The opening ceremony’s panelists included Dr. Khereh Rassas, Vice President of International Development and External Affairs, An-Najah U, Mrs Intsar Al-Wazir, President GUPW (General Union of Palestinian Women) and Dr. Samah Saleh, the Conference Chair. They discussed the role of women in the occupation, methods to resist violence against women caused by the occupation and ways to empower Palestinian women and raise awareness of women’s issues. This was a very informative panel and they all agreed that the Palestinian journey to freedom will not be possible without women being deeply involved.

An-Najah University

The second panel was entitled “Between Emancipation and Liberation: A Critical Review of Palestinian Women’s Studies” Panelists were Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, San Francisco U. and Mona Alkhalealy (GUPW). They agreed that one of the most important requirements is for everyone to understand and tolerate one another. Also, the important role women play in ending patriarchy and the Israeli
occupation. They run charities, open and staff shelters for abused women, participate in strikes and form societies to advance women’s issues. Changing the perception of the role women can play in Palestinian political parties is a necessity.



Gender-Based Violence

The third panel of the day was on the topic of “Gender-Based Violence”. The panelists were Dr. Mohammed Haj Yahya speaking about the patriarchal nature of Arab societies and its relationship to wife abuse. Dr. Ameera Shaheen of the university spoke on the need to enhance health care responses to the victims of gender-based violence in the Palestinian Territories. And Dr. Fadwa Labadi spoke about how the occupation promotes abuse.

Dr. Mohammed emphasized how the need and desire to care for their children often keeps women in abusive relationships. He spoke about the double standard for men and women regarding marriage. Men can remain single without any reproach, while women are expected to marry, bear and raise children and care for a household. If they don’t, they are often stigmatized by society. Women are forced to give up their dreams.

Panel on Gender Based Violence

Dr. Shaheen, a Health Care expert, talked about the necessity to have a universally agreed upon definition of what constitutes gender-based violence.
She also spoke about how women are often pressured either not to report abuse or to lie about it. She feels that more attention needs to be paid to the psychological impact violence has on these women. She promoted the need for expanded psychological counseling services for women in abusive relationships. There is also a need, she said, to address privacy issues so women do not suffer repercussions, often life-threatening, from reporting abuse. Dr. Shaheen also lamented the fact that there are often long wait times for counseling.

Dr. Labadi then spoke about how men can use the occupation to furnish themselves with an excuse for abuse. They often cite frustration and feelings of helplessness that comes from being in an apartheid regime. Women will also often try to give their abusers an excuse. She agreed that more attention needs to be paid to the mental health aspects of the issue. But all the panelists agreed with Dr. Mohammed when he declared there is no excuse for gender-based violence under any circumstances.

In all the panels each member was very knowledgeable, passionate and committed to resolving these issues. Often emotions ran high as they spoke about the wrongs they had witnessed and how they were each affected personally.

The Second Day-Women’s Role in Ending the Occupation

This started out with Alia Gilbrecht of the university introducing Ms. Dalal Salameh (GUPW) who spoke about the goals of the conference. The first being women’s role in ending the occupation faster. This includes women’s groups as well as support groups for women. She said that the conference should be used to not only identify solutions but to implement them by forging partnerships among the participants. Ms. Dalal stressed the need to recognize that patriarchy is antithetical to women’s rights and equality. She pointed out how the occupation strives to defeat and put down Palestinian society, its educational systems and institutions. One way they do this is by not allowing gifted children to attend school whenever possible.

The first panel of the day was on “Women and Marriage”. It comprised Ms. Waseela Tumeh, (Women’s Studies Program) whose topic was “The Social and Legal Dimensions of Prisoner’s Sperm Smuggling”. This has become a favorite means for Palestinian men who are serving long term sentences to continue their
bloodline. As of November 2018, there have been at least 67 known Palestinian babies conceived by this method. The first known baby was born in 2012. The procedure was developed at the Razan Fertility Clinic in Nablus. The Israeli Prison System (IPS) deals with offenders who are caught by disciplinary and/or administrative means.

Dr. Annalise Moore, University of Amsterdam, gave a presentation on “Marriage and Palestinian Youth”. Many of these marriages are the result of secret contracts between the young men and women and often, sometimes without the knowledge of their families. These contracts, while not legally valid, are often adhered to regardless. They are the result of fear of economic and political insecurity. Dr. Moore argued that this practice undermines society and causes a moral and political decline.

Dr. Deborah Young’s, of Empowering Communities Globally, discourse was on “Decolonizing the Research Process”. She posited that the university research process embeds patriarchy and colonialism by their institutional structures. The structures need to be changed to end patriarchal thinking in the research process. She argued for greater student involvement in the design and implementation of the processes and structures to achieve this. She emphasized that it must be structured as a collaborative not a subordinate arrangement.

Dr. Fadwa Labadi was also on this panel and gave an impassioned description of the problems facing women in Jerusalem. After the 1967 war when East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel, the Palestinian residents were not granted Israeli citizenship only permanent resident status, and thus were issued blue identity cards. Meanwhile Palestinians in the West Bank are issued Palestinian green identity cards. This is a major issue between the holders of the different color cards in the same family, and it has been escalated after the construction of the Separation Wall. In many cases the fathers of green card daughters will not allow their daughters to marry a man with a blue ID card (because the problems they will face as a result of different legal status). The “apartheid” wall insulates them. Women are much more persecuted than men in this regard. In the event she gets a divorce or becomes widowed, she will lose her residency right in Jerusalem, also she will lose her right of custody for her children. Married couples with different color cards must even enter Jerusalem through different checkpoints.


Dr. Fadwa Labadi

This conference was an incredibly enlightening discussion of the problems facing Palestinian women, their spouses and their families. It highlighted the obstacles facing both single and married women to live fulfilling lives based upon their own choices and needs. Possible solutions were put forth and it was the hope of all the participants that the conference would energize the members of the audience to work toward implanting these solutions. My most important takeaway from the conference was that only after Palestinian women are given their full rights can they become equal partners in the struggle to end the occupation.





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