Trailblazing Woman Runs for Mayor of Bethlehem

Vera Baboun Shakes Up Palestinian Society With Race

Changing Society: Palestinian women are pressing for a bigger role in a society still dominated by men. Part of that struggle includes running for political offices.
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Changing Society: Palestinian women are pressing for a bigger role in a society still dominated by men. Part of that struggle includes running for political offices.

By Reuters

Published October 14, 2012.
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Israeli military law covers all of the West Bank to protect Israel’s security requirements. In parts of the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority (PA) has administrative power, Palestinian law applies.

But persuading people to trust the PA police and courts is hard, and clans are still the mainstay of social order, resolving everything from car accidents to murder.

The system is entirely male-run. Women cannot attend meetings, let alone speak.

In Zaboun’s case, 600 grim-faced men from both families gathered for an ‘atwa’, or truce, two weeks after her killing and a trusted dignitary negotiated a settlement or ‘diya’ to compensate the dead woman’s family.

Once, the standard diya for a deliberate killing was 100 camels. Today it stands at 41,000 Jordanian dinars ($58,000). After bartering that factored in the need to care for Nancy Zaboun’s children, her family accepted 70,000 dinars ($99,000), to be paid immediately.

Palestinian Minister of Women’s Affairs Rabiha Diab says that, despite being sidelined by patriarchy and legal discrimination, Palestinian women do have a “strong presence”.

The city of Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank, boasts the Palestinians’ first elected female governor and mayor, as well as a newly appointed government spokeswoman.

“Despite, but perhaps also thanks to, decades of political turmoil, we were thrust into political life early in the game,” Diab said. Women currently make up a quarter of the cabinet, and 16.6 percent of the workforce, up from 10.3 percent in 10 years.

But this ratio is still low compared to the World Bank’s 26 percent average for the Middle East and North Africa. And though over 50 percent of Palestinian university students are female, nearly half of women with higher education remain unemployed.

Prominent Palestinian women see change happening gradually, but say it cannot come about by feminist campaigning alone.

“Though women should always be the primary defenders of their rights,” Baboun says, “change will only be realised when men join in too.”


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