"The Oslo Accords looked better on paper. The international community has not supported the process and has not exerted the needed pressure to make it a reality" says journalist and author Lotta Schüllerqvist.
13 September marked the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and Palestine. In a book that aims to take a critical look at its impact, Lotta Schüllerqvist explores the consequences it has had on women.
“When the big political machine was established as part of the Oslo Accords, women who had been politically active were forced to retreat to the social sphere” she says.
When Lotta Schüllerqvist first was asked to contribute a chapter to the book The Oslo Accords 1993–2013 – A Critical Assessment, that would gather different writers’ critical reflections on the impact of the Oslo Accords, her immediate answer was that she didn’t have the time.
“Then I looked at the list of authors and there were really very few women contributing, and even fewer pieces proposed to deal with the status of women. ‘Where are the women,’ I asked, which is something I try to do whenever I can,” she explains.
So a deal was quickly struck where she would get some extra time, in order to be sure that the impact of the Oslo Accords on women would be included.
Correspondent in Jerusalem
A Swedish journalist, Lotta Schüllerqvist was based in Jerusalem as the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter’s correspondent January 2003 – December 2006. But she first came to Israel and Palestine already in 1982, and although she has moved back to Stockholm she regularly visits Jerusalem.
On her last trip, just a week after the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, we meet to discuss her contribution to the book, for which she also interviewed Mona Shawa from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and Amal Syam from Women’s Affairs Centre, both Gaza based organisations working for women’s rights and peace.
“The Oslo Accords looked better on paper. It really just created an illusion that things would get better, but that didn’t happen. I remember a young Palestinian woman who told me that before there was at least clarity: there was an occupation and there was a resistance, now everything has just been muddled,” she says.
Lofty plans fell flat
Lotta Schüllerqvist remembers the excitement in 1993, and particularly in Gaza where tourist pamphlets were drawn up and plans to construct beach front hotels were made. Economic development was seen as a real possibility. But then all those lofty plans just fell flat, and implementation, specifically the planned two-state solution, was not realized.
“Implementing the accords was never really a priority for Israel, and over the years, with the Israeli government getting more nationalistic, it has become even less of a priority. The violent reaction that came in early 2000 when Palestinians began to see that the principles set forth in the Accords were only talk, basically just gave Israel more power to respond with heavy handed action. Meanwhile the international community has not supported the process and has not exerted the needed pressure to make the Oslo Accords a reality.”
Lotta Schüllerqvist explains that since the Oslo Accords, the mechanisms of the occupation have just gotten stronger, which have subsequently further limited Palestinian’s right to movement, the possibility for economic development and the force of civil society and political organising.
Women pushed out
In this current stand still and lack of development following the peace agreement, she sees that there has been a notable impact on women, which she explores in her chapter.
According to Lotta Schüllerqvist, women in Palestine have a rich history of organising, and even though women’s rights have always been secondary to the national struggle, women did have a strong voice in the resistance. But after the Oslo Accords, women’s political involvement really changed. Politically active women where pushed out when the political machinery that was part of the accord was established.
In the book, Lotta Schüllerqvist quotes the activist Hanan Ashrawi, who explained to her that in 1993 the men felt that the struggle shifted into a period of more serious decision-making, and this was a domain exclusively for men to control.
Impossible to implement new justice system
The post-Oslo Accords era has also had a direct impact on women’s lives and their status in society. “There was a lot of work on the part of Palestine to build a state on the basis of the rule of law, on the basis of a constitution and to move away from the more traditional justice systems. It all sounded good, but hasn’t really been possible to implement because of the situation following the Accords” Lotta Schüllerqvist says.
Immediately following the Oslo Accords, a committee was established to change the personal status law, but they were not able to push a new law through. Then came the Fatah/Hamas split in 2006, and with that the Parliament closed. Since then there has been no way to work towards legal reform. The implications of this is something both Amal Syam and Mona Shawa speak about in Lotta Schüllerqvist’s chapter in the book. According to them, women are not protected by the law in Palestine and fall victim to various forms of gender-based violence, including early marriage.
No expiration date
Reflecting over the years, Lotta Schüllerqvist concludes that while perhaps not a reason for celebration, the 20th anniversary does give us a possibility to look over what it has meant and what it has led to.
“Well, there has never been an expiration date on the Oslo Accords, so I guess it can go on for as long as it wants” she says.
Field Representative in Israel/Palestine
The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
Often, women who report their husbands for abuse are not able to support themselves financially and therefore have to return home. Because of this the police force and women's rights organisations try to work with the victims family and inform them of the law and the risks of being sentenced to prison if breaking it. Photo: Ester Sorri.
The Kurdistan region of Iraq has one of Middle East’s most progressive laws on protection of women – but the implementation has been faltering. Now, women’s rights organisations are working to increase public awareness of the law.
“When I am to bake, there is no wood, my husband doesn’t bother to fetch any. When he comes home at night he blames me for all he can think of, and then he hits me. And he beats the children.”
The woman telling this has bruises on both hands and feet. The rest of her body is covered in a long dress. She lives in a village just an hour’s drive from Slemani in the eastern parts of the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Here, houses and walls are simply constructed, built in stone and clay. From afar they melt into the brown hillside.
Only 18 families live here and for the battered woman there is no help available. To leave her family and the village community for a life alone somewhere else, is basically unthinkable. Women who get divorced often have to leave their children with their former husband or his mother.
Since this woman can’t read, she would have a hard time to support herself. Also, it’s very rare for someone to live alone and it’s not considered normal, regardless of it being a woman or a man. The security situation for women who live by themselves is often bad and they are more vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse.
“Many of us are afraid of our husbands, but what can we do? We have nothing to put against them” says another woman from the same village.
Still, women in Iraqi Kurdistan enjoy more freedom than in the rest of Iraq – to dress as they like and to move about outside of the home. They also have more opportunities to study and to work.
Nevertheless, public places are almost totally dominated by men, who spend much of their social life outdoors. Women rarely go out if they don’t have a specific reason to do so, and women who move about by themselves are often subjected to harassment and slander.
Violence against women is a major problem in Iraqi Kurdistan. Sometimes it’s the women’s husbands who are behind the violence, but it can also be a father, a brother, an uncle or another relative. Mostly, violence is used as a way to control a woman so she doesn’t put the family’s honor in danger.
Having sex outside of marriage, can be equal to writing your own death sentence. Recently, there have also been reports of young people being killed, because they had sent text messages to someone of the opposite sex. Other reasons for severe beatings or murder can be wanting to choose your own partner or asking your family for permission to divorce.
Consequence of history
Some women activists argue that the violence is a consequence of Kurdistan’s and Iraq’s violent history. That violence has become a natural part of everyday life and therefore is close at hand even at home. Before Iraqi Kurdistan created a de facto autonomy from central Iraq, in 1991, women were killed every day, but this was all treated with silence. In despair, women committed suicide by setting themselves on fire. Others were burned by family members.
Since then much has happened and there has been progress. In 2011, Iraqi Kurdistan adopted a progressive law to protect women. Among other things, it prohibits domestic violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation, forced marriages and attempts to hinder the education of girls.
But crimes committed for so-called reasons of honour are considered having mitigating circumstances. The penalty for murder can be as low as 6 months in prison, up to three years at the most, if honour can be invoked. Meanwhile, a woman was recently sentenced to death for killing her husband when she no longer could bare his daily violence against her.
Runak Faraj Raheem, Head of WMEC.
Lobbying for 20 years
“The law is not perfect, but I’m glad we got it. We have carried out insistent lobbying for over 20 years to get this far, says Runak Faraj Raheem, Head of the organisation Women’s Media and Education Center, WMEC.
WMEC is working to spread knowledge of the law, both in society and within the judiciary. Their number one channel is their magazine Rewan, which deals with subjects concerning women’s rights, health and honour-related violence.
Rewan has a circulation of 4500 copies and is distributed to offices, public agencies and politicians.
Much of its content tackles the ever present severe violence that women are subjected to.
The editorial staff is also dedicated to highlight women who are politically active and to present them as role models.
Additionally, every issue features a page with articles on women’s health, like pregnancy and childbirth, which many women lack knowledge about.
“It is our belief that women are autonomous. Therefore we want to strengthen them” says Rewan’s Editor in Chief, Hana Shwan.
Trainings for police officers
WMEC has also organised trainings in the law on violence against women for over 1000 police officers and prosecutors.
”Even though they are working at the front line, not all police officers are familiar with this new legislation. Others just don’t accept it. They find it hard to abandon the idea that violence within the enclosed walls of a home is ok” says Project Organiser Robin Qasim.
Police investigations of domestic violence have often been sloppy and marked by a distrust of the victims. In addition, the victims have to endure a long and painful process in which they have to submit their testimony over and over again to different people. Several women’s organisations say that women are subjected to sexual abuse by the police when reporting on violence, and that judges call them prostitutes when their cases are processed in court.
Hope for better investigations
Many hope for a higher quality in these types of investigations, when the regional directorate working with violence against women takes over the responsibility next spring.
Chalar J Mohammed, Deputy Director of the directorate.
“So far, these cases have been handled by the local police, while the directorate’s staff have had to make do with just following the process from a distance. We hope this change will make it easier for women to report violence. Here, they can be certain that their reports remain secret and the directorate’s staff, who are police officers, are all dressed in civilian clothing” says Major Chalar J Mohammed, Deputy Director of the directorate.
Support from social worker
When a woman has reported that she is a victim of violence, she’s put in contact with a social worker, who supports her through the following process. It’s important that the woman feels that there is hope, since it often is impossible for her to see any solution to her problems.
“If it’s a minor offense, we call the woman’s family and try to mediate. The family must sign a contract saying that this crime will not be repeated, and after that we continue to keep an eye on them.”
If the woman’s life is deemed to be in danger, a judge may decide that she, and sometimes her children, should move to a shelter. There are three public shelters and one non-state one. According to Runak Faraj Raheem, the shelters are more like prisons than homes. The women receive all possible care, but they can not go outside and they have no contact with their families. Sometimes the solution can be to help them to a new life abroad. But most of the times, the women move back in with their family after the mediation.
Mediation not reliable
However, mediation is not a reliable solution. To return to the family means a continued risk to be subjected to threats and abuse. There are several known cases where women have been killed by their families after the authorities have intervened.
According to Chalar J Mohammed there is a trend of more women daring to report violence, probably because knowledge of the law is spreading and women are hoping to recieve help. But women’s organisations experiences show that state protection for these women still is extremely weak.
Annette Ulvenholm Wallqvist
This text was originally produced for The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation‘s news letter Fred i sikte.
In the end of January, a UN report on the impact of Israeli settlements on the rights of Palestinians was released. Now, a follow-up report shows that in spite of there being a lot of international advocating for the Israel-Palestine peace talks that now have been renewed, the first six months of 2013 brought an increase in attacks by settlers on Palestinians and their property in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“The settlers threw rocks at our house and the soldiers kept firing tear gas. (…) I constantly feel unsafe in my own house with my young children. On that day I realised how the settlers can get away with anything with the army’s protection.”
The words are Fatima’s, a 41-year-old woman living in the village of Burin in the West Bank. She is one of 13 women, whose testimonies are included in the report Israeli settler violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, by Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling, WCLAC. With these interviews, WCLAC wants to highlight the impact settler violence and property distruction have on women. The report has also been submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.
More settlements being built
The January UN report stated that the establishment of the settlements has fragmented the West Bank placing at risk the possibility of a Palestinian State, and by implication, a viable two state solution – which is the stated purpose of the resumed peace talks. Still, WCLAC’s report shows that during the first six months of 2013, work began on 865 new housing units in settlements in the West Bank, the highest figure in seven years, and an 176 percent increase compared to the same period last year. Settler-related incidents resulting in injury to Palestinians rose 5,5 percent and incidents involving property damage rose 41 percent.
Lack of accountability
According to the report, there is a general lack of accountability for settler attacks, which is a major factor in their continuance. “Despite Israel’s obligations under international law to protect the civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, settler violence persists largely due to the lack of adequate law enforcement by the Israeli authorities. Many soldiers appear to see their protective role as only applying to settlers, and not Palestinians” the report states. In connection, the UN report showed that complaints made by Palestinians against settlers had a 91 percent chance of being dismissed, whereas in cases involving settlers complatins against Palestinians, up to 95 percent proceed to court.
No compensation for stolen herd
Montaha, a Bedouin woman from near Jericho tells a similar story:
“My brother-in-law (…) told us that he had to hide out of fear for his life when he saw four settlers carrying guns coming from the outpost. They took [our] livestock back to the outpost and later to the settlement. We couldn’t believe we had lost our only source of income. We reported the incident to the Palestinian authorities, who in turn reorted it to the Israeli authorities. We also reported it at an Israeli police station nearby (…). Nothing was done (..) One day we saw the settlers moving the herd. We called the police who managed to retrieve six of our livestock. Two weeks later the police returned three of our goats after another three had died. (…) I dream that one day the rest of our goats will be returned as we need the income. We were given no support or compensation.”
In a bleak concluding remark, the report states that due to an absence of international and domestic accountability, there is no likelihood that the situation will improve.
We received a blog post from Ylwa Renström, coordinator for the Democratic Republic of Congo at the Swedish women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, who recently met with women’s rights activists in DR Congo and Burundi.
“Sitting outside the airport in Kigali, I think back on the last few days that I’ve spent in Burundi and in Uvira in DR Congo. In Burundi, I met women from the organisation MIFA (Ministère de la Femme en Action – “Ministry for women’s rights activists”).
One of them was Dina. Like some other members of our partner organisations in DR Congo, she was exposed to serious threats from unknown groups and had to leave her hometown of Uvira. I met her, her children and some other members of MIFA at the place where she now is living. Despite the threats, Dina is determined not to give up her struggle to improve women’s situation in DR Congo.
Dina told me about MIFA’s plans for next year’s support from Kvinna till Kvinna. They have received approval from seven churches in South Kivu in eastern DR Congo to push for more women on decision-making positions and in the church’s body for conflict resolution. MIFA has also received inquiries from church leaders in Burundi and Rwanda to start working with them. With few exceptions (Dina is one of them), women are almost totally excluded from the leadership of the church.
In the Great Lakes region, churches’ opinions carry great weight in society. Dina says that by working with church leaders and pastors to make them convey the message of women’s rights, many of the churches’ members would take this to heart. The pastors will also highlight passages in the Bible that defend women’s rights.
Dina also shared one of many success stories told by MIFA employees. This was from the High Plateau, which is mostly inhabited by the ethnic group Banyamulenge. An girl of 13 was married off to a 17-year-old in a traditional ceremony, including the payment of dowry. This type of marriage is common on the High Plateau.
The girl moved in with her husband and his inlaws, but almost immediately the groom went away. After months of waiting for his return, the bride didn’t want to remain in his house, but return to her parents. Her inlaws refused and the pastor who had wed the couple forbade her to move.
Some of MIFA’s employees got involved and were planning to report this to the police, since the marriage was not legally binding because of the couple being underaged. MIFA’s support to the girl got the pastor to annul the marriage, the dowry was paid back and the girl could return home.”
Banner from the Armenian organisation Society Without Violence at a Gender Equality Fair in Yerevan. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Julia Lapitskii.
The Armenian government has approved a bill on amendments to the country’s gender equality law. This after the use of the word “gender” in the law generated massive protests from traditionalist groups as well as the Armenian Apostolic Church. The wording will now be changed to ”equal rights and equal opportunities for men and women”.
20 May the Armenian parliament adopted law number 57 on gender equality, with 108 votes for and one against. But in the end of the summer, campaigns against the use of the word gender in the law started appearing in social networks. Videos connecting gender to pedophelia and bestiality were circulated and gender equality activists were threatened. The groups also claimed that using “gender” as a base for the law, would meen giving “unwaranted benefits to sexual minorities” (i e could be used to promote LGBT rights).
Apparently these tactics worked, because the government has now approved amendments to the law. In a statement, Artem Asatryan, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, said that in order to avoid dual interpretations, the words “gender relations” were changed to “equal rights and opportunities for men and women”. Artem Asatryan said that Armenia has adopted the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Dicrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and pledged to pursue a policy of non-discrimination against women , but that the term gender does not apply in that context.
The amendments has been sent to the parliament, which will consider the bill during the fall.
In an earlier comment, one of the activists targeted in the anti-gender campaigns, Lara Aharonian from Women’s Resource Center, said that this whole affair has been used by certain decision-makers to score political points, since it is easy in Armenia to mobilize the masses against LGBT persons.
Julia Lapitskii/Malin Ekerstedt
“The negotiations are destined to fail as long as they do not adopt a rights based approach to the conflict" says Naila Ayesh from Women's Affairs Center in Gaza. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna.
September 13, it will be 20 years since the Oslo Accords between Palestine and Israel were signed. Evaluating the on-going US-led peace talks, representatives from Palestinian women’s organisations are critical to a process that seems to repeat many mistakes of previous negotiations, without taking into consideration the changes that have taken place on the ground.
“In principle I do believe that we have to settle the conflict, but after 20 years of negotiations, the process has become more important than the outcome”, says Amal Khreishe, Director of the women’s rights organisation Palestinian Working Women Society for Development (PWWSD).
Peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed in Washington, led by US Secretary of State John Kerry, in July. Since then, several rounds of talks have been held in Jerusalem and Jericho.
As was the case in earlier negotiations, representatives of the Palestinian women’s movement are excluded and feel that the talks do not actually deal with what is happening on the ground (for more information see link to the left), nor with their priorities. Furthermore, they feel that the Palestinian Authority – that is negotiating on behalf of the Palestinian people instead of the PLO who took part in the Oslo process – does not represent them.
Several of Kvinna till Kvinna’s Palestinian partner organisations say that the consequences of earlier agreements, especially the Oslo Accords, have had a negative impact on the situation for Palestinians. Naila Ayesh from Women’s Affair’s Center in Gaza says:
“Palestinians see no hope in these peace talks. The negotiations are destined to fail as long as they do not adopt a rights based approach to the conflict. The last 20 years of occupation only brought about more settlements and land thefts, and continued violations of Palestinians’ fundamental rights. Now, at a time when Israel is facing the threat of political isolation, it uses the negotiations as a cover for its on-going colonization and land confiscation. The result will be a further fragmented Palestinian society, making the objectives of women’s rights organisations increasingly difficult to achieve.”
“Change has to be seen”
Naila Ayesh says that she and other Palestinians are not against negotiations as such. But she emphasizes that a peace process has to aim at ending the occupation and achieve a complete Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian land occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.
“Change has to be seen on the ground in order for people to trust that the negotiations has lead somewhere”, she says.
Amal Khreishe from PWWSD thinks that the process lacks transparency.
“The talks exclude all political parties and civil society. Only a narrow circle is involved and they are all the same who have tried and failed before”, she says.
Women without influence
No women’s organisations have been involved in the talks, and according to Muna Hasan, Program Officer for the women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Jerusalem, women’s influence over the peace talk agenda has largely been absent. And when women activists publicly have tried to express thoughts and concerns about the negotiations, media has not taken them seriously, but has focused on how they were dressed and whether their hair was covered or not.
Amal Khreishe fears that the Palestinians will be forced to agree on a deal that doesn’t solve the problem with the Israeli settlements on occupied land or the issue of Jerusalem. That would surely create frustration and more violence, she says.
“As a woman human rights defender, I would want to change the way security is dealt with and to discuss human security rather than military security. That could pave the way to democracy and real security.”
Not equal powers
Both Naila Ayesh and Amal Khreishe point out that the negotiations are not being held between two equal powers.
“Direct negotiations with the supervision of the US just creates a power imbalance. How can we trust that there really is a will to achieve Palestinian self-determination with all the settlement expansions and the violence against Jerusalemites?” Amal Khreishe says.
The peace talks had hardly begun before Israel announced that it plans to build more than 2 000 new houses for Jewish settlers on occupied Palestinian territory. This has created an even bigger distrust among the Palestinians, further exacerbated by Israeli security forces killing three Palestinians in Qalandia refugee camp on August 26.
Karin Råghall/Linda Öhman