Earlier session for raising awareness of women's rights among women, organised by ACCDL and held by a male preacher. Photo: ACCDL
In Egypt, Muslim women preachers often have a lot of influence over ordinary religious women. Therefore, the Arabian Company for Consultancy, Development and Law (ACCDL) decided to target this group with a project on women’s rights as part of a moderate Sharia view.
With the rising discussion about the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliament in the wake of the 25 Jan. Revolution, 2011, another discussion rises on the political Islam and its implications on the Egyptian people, which faces key social and economical challenges.
Women face even greater obstacles like a high rate of illiteracy, domestic violence, sexual harassment and lack of economical empowerment. At the same time the legal system doesn’t fully support women’s rights as women have a limited influence over it, say women’s rights groups. Hence, ACCDL decided to act upon and tackle women’s issues through a religious perspective.
Religious perspective on women’s issues
With a project titled Muslims Sisters – Issues between the Conservative Thought and Shari’a, ACCDL addresses women’s issues from a religious perspective. It targets female religious preachers at mosques and in religious circles, important places where women gather. This is also were women turn for advice on religious issues.
The idea of this project was born in the wake of the 25 Jan Egyptian revolution in 2011 and the raise of the Muslim Brotherhood political party in the parliament. Its members have generally focused on excluding women in their statements and decisions and have also attempted to ban laws related to women’s rights, claiming that they were the product of the corrupt previous regime.
As a reaction to this, ACCDL had several meetings with Sharia experts to investigate Sharia’s take on women’s issues. “In those meetings, ACCDL found out that the claims the Muslim brotherhood are making are just an absolute patriarchal point of view that doesn’t belong to Sharia laws or Islam. In fact, the Islam religion is one of the most women friendly religions and supports women’s rights” says ACCDL’s Executive Manager, Hala Abdelqader.
“However, especially among poor and illiterate women, there is a lack of awareness of women’s rights based on a gender perspective and their rights mentioned in the international agreements that Egypt has signed”.
Biggest influence on women
So, in order to support women’s rights ACCDL last year held several training courses for religious preachers and imams about women’s issues from a moderate Sharia point of view. During these courses, the organisation realized that female religious preachers are the ones who have the most contact with women at mosques, and thereby also have the biggest influence on women.
“Those female preachers provide a sanctuary for many women, but they also lack in understanding of women’s issues. So, we decided to target them directly with trainings and meetings to raise their awareness with regards to human rights and women’s rights and to show that Sharia laws don’t contradict with women’s rights” says Hala Abdelqader.
Hala Abdelqader believes that it is important to work with women’s issues through the religious female preachers as a way to influence larger audiences.
“In Egypt, especially in areas where illiteracy, poverty and lack of awareness prevail, like the Imbaba area where ACCDL is located, female preachers have a huge influence on women. We have heard from many women that the female religious preachers are their main reference for advice. For example, a woman would turn to a preacher regarding personal affairs between her and her husband, and she takes her advice as the constitution between her and her husband. Accordingly, if problems occur the wife would insist on sticking to the religious preacher’s words and the marriage might end in a divorce. To that extent, the preachers have an influence over the women. Usually the preachers are illiterate and their competence is only that of reciting the Quran after memorizing it through listening. Still, they give religious advice, which usually is very backward, on social, financial and political matters.”
According to Hala Abdelqader religion is a sensitive area for many Egyptians, and prevailing attitudes that suppress women and reject gender equality are further fuelled by illiteracy and a lack of awareness. ACCDL hopes that it will be able to dispel some of the myths surrounding women’s rights and Islam.
And their Muslim sister’s project has been successful. About 175 Muslim women preachers participated in the training and a large number of them showed changes in attitude and behavior towards women’s rights. ACCDL mentions some concrete examples in its evaluation of the project:
”Many of the preachers were also keen to volunteer work with us or transfer to us cases of family violence of women in need to listen or adopt their issues; others asked for advice on how to deal with issues of women who are frequent visitors to mosques from legal and social perspectives, and many of preachers asked us about the list of activities we offer to attend with us and actively participate therein.”
“The dialogue was about the referendum, they completely refused to talk about the referendum or the President as they largely support him, but with the end of the training three of them started, with the assistance of their husbands, to invite the villagers to work on claiming women’s rights in the new constitution. They admitted that before the training they were lacking the awareness and it led them to maintain and defend the Constitution as it is, but after the dialogues they admitted that their opinions have been changed and they would lead a campaign within mosques to discuss women’s rights in the Constitution.”
“There was a preacher who attended at the first meeting on participation of women in public life and she was refusing everything we were saying to the extent that she attacked the project coordinator and accused her of being bias to anti Islam movements. But with continuous dialogues and communication, she adopted an idea of forming a complete group of mosque preachers that she knows personally. She composed a group of 23 preachers and supervised their training and participation with them. She invited as well the project coordinator to deliver lectures at the mosque where she works and they agreed thereon.”
With this good result in mind, ACCDL is now planning a new series of trainings.
Edited by: Malin Ekerstedt
The fights in Syria started in March 2011, and, according to the UN, in February 2013 the death toll had reached 70 000. Here it's the city of Homs that is being hit by shelling. June 2012. Photo: UN Photo/David Manya.
The situation in Syria is critical, especially for women and children. Society is being destroyed by war and violence and the consequences will be long-term. The Iraqi women’s rights and peace organisation Warvin recently went to Syria and reports that women’s rights are being increasingly threatened.
In April, a representative* of the Iraqi organisation Warvin Foundation for Women’s Issues visited Syria. For three days he travelled around and spoke to civilians living in various cities.
In Aleppo, all the people he met told him that living conditions are very hard and asked him for help to reach out internationally with their stories.
– The people I met told me that they haven’t had electricity for six months and that the mobile phones don’t work. Everything is expensive, if you want to buy 1 kilogram of potatoes, it costs more than 4 dollars. Also, they don’t have any gas or petrol. I saw many people who were sick, but treatment and medicine is very expensive, if available at all.
We’ve heard reports about sexual violence during the conflict. Did people say anything about that?
–Because of the situation it’s difficult to find any documentation. But people told me that many women were raped. One big problem is that if for example you are a sunni muslim man who rape a shia or Alawi muslim woman, it is seen as a success story.
You mean that rape is used as a tool to punish other religious or ethnic groups?
– Yes, exactly.
Conservative group in control
Another thing that worries the Warvin representative is the advance of the conservative military group Jabhat Al Nusra (”The support front for the people of greater Syria”), supported by Al-Quaeda. The group now controls the whole Aleppo area.
– Jabhat Al Nusra tells women and children to wear scarves. At checkpoints they stop the buses to check if the women inside wear scarves and if they don’t, they will be taken outside and punished. They cut the hair of one Kurdish girl at a checkpoint, because she didn’t wear a hijab.
The Warvin representative was also told that members of Jabhat Al Nusra throw stones on cars in Aleppo that are driven by women and that the group has forbidden women to wear jeans.
– They want to practice Islamic sharia law. In the city of Derezor, with a mixed population of Kurds, Christians and Turkomens, Jabhat Al Nusra has already established sharia courts.
No promotion of peace
He is not optimistic about the future of Syria. The different military groups are all supported by foreign actors, who push for their own interests in Syria rather than promoting peace and human rights, he says.
During his visit, he did not come across any specific peace initiatives. According to him, the Syrian opposition does not have a road-map for the future of Syria.
– They have no clear vision of what the country should be like after Assad’s regime has fallen, regarding for example human rights, women’s rights and rights of ethnic minorities.
He is disappointed about the fact that although more than two million Kurds live in Syria, the Syrian opposition has not yet recognized the difficulties this group faces. The situation for Kurds, as well as for Christians and other minority groups, was bad already under Assad, and it has not improved, he says.
– In Aleppo there have been systematic thefts taking place, supported by Jabhat Al Nusra and The Free Syrian Army. They ask Kurds and Christians to sell their houses to sunni people, and then force them to leave the city. No one looks after the rights of the Kurdish people.
International actors should take action
The Warvin representative would like to see international actors like the United States and countries in Europe to take action to solve the situation. In his opinion, European countries should force China, Iran and Russia to cut their funding to Bashar Al-Assad’s government. He also thinks that they should ask Saudi Arabia and Turkey and others to cut their funding of fundamentalistic islamic groups.
– This is crucial for democracy, women’s rights, human rights and freedom of speech. People wanted to get rid of Assad because of a lack of democracy. If fundamentlist groups take control over Syria, the war will continue, says the Warvin representative.
* For safety reasons the representative wants to be anonymous.
According to a study carried out by the Swedish women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, inequalities are behind three major problems for women living in Area C of the occupied Palistinian territories’ West Bank: early marriages, lack of political participation and violence.
The study, named Inequalities facing Women living in Area C of the Occupied Palestinian Territories’ West Bank, is based on interviews made with Palestinian women living in Area C. In addition, Kvinna till Kvinna held a meeting with representatives of national women’s rights organisations and international actors, to explore in specific the challenges to addressing violence against women in Area C.
150 000 Palestinian inhabitants
In accordance with the Oslo Accords from 1993, the Palestinian territories were divided in three temporary distinct administrative divisions, the Areas A, B and C, until a final status accord would be established. Area C constitutes 62 percent of the West Bank, with about 150 000 Palestinians living there, but who only have access to about 30 percent of the land.
The area was to remain under full Israeli civilian and military control for five years, but 20 years later, the Israeli military is still in control, and the number of Israeli settlers today by far exceeds the number of Palestinians. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has no authority in Area C and no formal representation as an executive body. How are women affected by this construction?
As PNA is not represented in Area C, there are almost no public services, like medical treatment or police. The area is mainly rural and women work mostly in the agricultural sector, having farming as their primary source of income, very few have the opportunity to get higher education. Isolated as Area C is, school attendance for young women is difficult, there is hardly any chance of getting access to information, to meet women from other areas or countries, to get inspired, informed, empowered or to network.
Without permission from the Israeli government, no international organisations are allowed to operate facilities in the area; a fact that hinders economic development of the rural villages and an alteration of the predominant conservative attitudes. Additionally, heavy restrictions apply to building housing or development projects, and demolition happens quite often.
Many villages are located in close proximity of Israeli settlements and attacks from settlers on Palestinians are on the rise. This creates an atmosphere of fear, out of which the freedom of movement is restricted for women. Schools are oftentimes located at great distances, which means that pupils have to walk far every day. Thus parents are very hesitant to let their girls attend school.
In some cases, this perceived insecurity – along with other factors, such as financial constraints – become reasons for which parents seek to marry their daughters off at an early age. This in turn means that women are not allowed to leave the house and to get an education. One interviewee in the study said: “My dad made me get married when I was 16 to protect me, because at that time Israeli soldiers were coming every night claiming that they are looking for wanted people.”
Lack of political participation
Security threats, a lack of space and presence, a lack of education and conservative attitudes block women’s political empowerment, including the chance to gather knowledge about political processes. All of this contributes to controlling and limiting women’s participation.
Violence against women
As there is no police service in Area C no protection strategies can be implemented. Due to this lack of health-, social-, judicial and policing authorities, women are exposed to violence without any means of protection or justice. The level of violence perpetrated by family members and intimate partners is high and in the patriarchal and conservative society regarded as a private matter. Customary or traditional response fills the vacuum of absent laws and policies.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote in March 2013 that Israeli “right-wing parties view Area C as a primary area of struggle against the Palestinian Authority.” And again: women bear the brunt of this struggle.
Badam Zari (right) campaigning ahead of the elections. Photo: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS
Badam Zari, a 40 year old Pakistani housewife, does what is but a dream for most of the Pakistani women: she is the first ever tribal woman in Pakistan to run for parliament.
Badam Zari is from the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), a part of Pakistan which is in the hands of Taliban, where most women are uneducated and rarely allowed to leave the house without their husbands.
“I am extremely worried about tribal women, most of who stay in their houses, which has prevented them from making any progress. I want to reach the assembly to become a voice for women, especially those living in the tribal areas,” Badam Zari told on a press conference at the beginning of April. “This was a difficult decision, but now I am determined and hopeful society will support me.” At least she has the support of her husband, a teacher, who accompanied her when she announced her candidacy. She claims that she is not afraid and has not yet received any threats of Islamist militants.
Although all adults of FATA have a legal right to vote, many women were prevented from voting in the 2008 elections, as Taliban threatened tribesmen with bombing and other “severe punishments”, if they would not keep women away from the polling stations. If women are allowed to vote, they are expected to vote in accordance to men’s orders.
Pakistan was the first Muslim country with a woman, Benazir Bhutto, as head of state. Because of a quota system, women hold 16,3 percent of the parliament’s seats.
Badam Zari has not much chances to win, according to analysts, but whether she’ll win or not – she succeeded in breaking the taboo of women’s appearance in public. And, as a local politician said, her courageous candidacy is of enormous symbolic value.
This is not the first time Shatha Naji receives recognition for her work. She has already received the Mimosa Italian Award (2009) and the Shield of the Baghdadi Woman from Baghdad's governance council (2010). Photo: UNAMI
Shatha Naji Hussein from the Iraqi organization ‘Women for Peace’ was recently honored together with four other human rights activist by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Mr. Martin Kobler, during a ceremony to celebrate International Human Rights Day in Baghdad.
Every voice counts and can make a difference in society. Shatha Naji Hussein has raised hers to improve the situation of women and girls in Iraq. “The tireless efforts of those who campaign for justice, protect and support victims of violence, and work to ensure the political participation of people from all backgrounds, often go unrecognized,” Mr. Kobler stated in his laudatory speech. “I wish to draw particular attention to those ordinary Iraqis who have made their voices count by working to improve the lives of their fellow citizens,” he added. Shatha extended the honor to her colleagues at Women for Peace: “I feel each one of them deserve this honor more than me” .
In the seventies, Iraq declared full literacy for women, today the country is down to 40 percent. Before the 1980′s, Iraqi women were more visible and active in public life compared to other women in the region’s countries. A period of economic growth led to more education and employment possibilities. But the patriarchal structures and conservative moral concepts remained unchanged. Since then, women have been forced back into traditional roles and the overall situation in Iraq deteriorated after the invasion. In the war-torn and impoverished country, women now see themselves faced with stigmatization and marginalization from wider society. Sharia law has been introduced and honor killings, sexual slavery and domestic violence are serious problems. Until today, the law and custom allows male family members to “discipline” women with violence. The war has left many women widowed and with post-war trauma symptoms.
Against this background, Women for Peace was founded in 2003 to change Iraqi women’s conditions. Women for Peace works to empower women to bring change about in their own communities. According to Shatha Naji Hussein it requires a two-way process between civil movement and decision-makers to empower women and to secure women’s rights to build a safe future for women. “A nation’s development is measured by women’s development. If we want to build a nation that’s well-developed and prosperous, we must secure women’s rights to live a safe life”, says Shatha.
To reach that goal, women should also be included in the peace building process in the country, but are facing many enormous obstacles and challenges, Shatha points out. “It’s important to do continuous and diligent work in raising awareness about women’s legal rights in order for women to be more aware of their rights and to fight violence in all its forms. Moreover, the government has to work very hard to implement the UN resolution 1325 terms and make sure that women have an effective and real participation in all walks of life.”
Katharina Andersen | Afrah Nasser
Women in Damascus, Photo: Trilli Bagus
February 18th to 20th, Syrian activists and members of the country’s opposition met in Stockholm for a three days conference to discuss ”Women’s Influence and Participation in a Post-Authoritarian Syria.”
Issues like gender quota, human rights, the constitution, peace and reconciliation, psychosocial support and women’s empowerment were among the discussed topics. The conference resulted in the foundation of The Syrian Women’s Network, as the participants decided to work closely together in the future.
Organized work for women’s rights might be essential to break the pattern women experienced in the Arab spring countries: To be an equal part of the revolution, but when it comes to decisions and peace making, they find themselves excluded.
One of the conferences’ participants, a female activist from Syria who wanted to remain anonymous for safety reasons, shared her experiences of equality in decision processes at the beginning of the revolution and that this changed as the protests shifted to armed conflicts. Now women are the ones suffering the most under the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe and she was worried whether women will be able to overcome the devastating effects of war and violence and find the power to get actively involved in politics.
Now might be a good moment to start to shape the role women can have in a future Syria, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for negotiation talks on February 20th, after a meeting between Russia and the Arab League. Sitting down at a negotiating table is the only way to end the conflict without irreparable damage to Syria, he said. “Neither side can allow itself to rely on a military solution to the conflict, because it is a road to nowhere.”
Hopefully, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, which urges the inclusion of women in conflict resolution and peace negotiations, will be attended and women will sit at this negotiation table as well. This would increase the chance of lasting peace and might also be a possibility to address the question of sexual violence as a weapon of war. Until now, in only three ceasefires in the world sexual violence was ever mentioned.
Women continue to protest on Tahrir Square despite increased violence. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Saba Nowzari
At least 25 women were sexually assaulted or harassed during the Egyptian’s protests against the continuing injustice on the second anniversary of the revolution on January 25. The assaults are believed to be organized to prevent women from participating in the democratization process. ”Ironically enough, the revolution has led to a sharp cut-back of women’s rights in the country”, says Saba Nowzari, the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s field representative in Egypt.
Violent protests flared up in several Egyptian cities at the revolution’s two-year anniversary that ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011. About 50 people have died and at least 1300 people were injured. President Muhammad Morsi declared a 30-day state of emergency and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in three cities, a ban which has mostly been ignored.
Women’s rights organizations in Egypt have reported sexual assaults and harassment of about 25 women in Tahrir Square and its vicinity only during the anniversary.
According to Saba Nowzari, many claim that the attacks against women are organized, even though it is yet unclear who lies behind the assaults. The opposition party National Salvation Front (NSF) blames President Morsi according to the newspaper Ahram Online.
Several civil society groups tried to help the victims by patrolling on Tahrir Square. The volunteers encountered though different kinds of harassment themselves. A woman from Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment told the Guardian how she was surrounded by men who were touching and groping her while she was a part of a rescue team trying to help another woman.
Tahrir Bodyguard has now started to teach self-defense classes for women and on February 12 there will be a demonstration against women’s sexual harassment in front of Egyptian Embassies around the world. Women living outside the capital are in an even more difficult situation, as the organized women’s movement mainly works in Cairo. Their exposure to sexual violence remains thus undocumented.
The protests, which started on January 25, are mostly about frustration in wide parts of the Egyptian public. Continuing injustice, the dwindling economy and the police’s use of excessive violence against civilians, causing many casualties which nobody is hold accountable for, has led to strong dissatisfaction and massive protests, especially in Port Said, where the death toll was highest.
“There is an enormous frustration in the country about the lack of action against violence”, says Saba Nowzari.
People are also upset about the Muslim Brotherhood’s power-amassment, which has become apparent in different ways. Liberal and secular politicians in the committee drafting the new constitution left the committee in protest against the Muslim Brotherhood’s overrepresentation and their refusal to take other group’s demands for freedom and more rights into consideration. Even though the people voted for the new constitution, it has rather led to more political instability in the country, according to Saba Nowzari.
The new constitution is not a benefit for Egyptian women. Already when the constitution draft was leaked at the end of 2012, Egyptian women’s organizations warned that an adoption of the new constitution could mean a change for the worse for women’s rights.
The constitution is now approved, in spite of deep disagreement, lowering minimum marriage age for girls to 14 and making it possible to sell girls for sex without getting punished. The constitution contains no article that mentions women’s rights, as the proposed section about gender equality has been omitted, which opens the door for women’s discrimination.
The new constitution makes it also more difficult for women to make a career in the political arena. At the eve of the revolution a female quota bill for parliament was passed. This bill has now been annulled, so there’s no demand for the parties anymore to include women in their lists. Egypt is already one of the countries with the lowest percentage of women in parliament. Women represented 1, 8 percent of the now dissolved parliament.
”There is a deliberate discrimination going on of women in politics and their possibility to participate in decision-making processes,” says Saba Nowzari.
At the same time the women’s movement has never been that visible. Women’s organizations have never before been so good at getting their message out, and the situation of Egyptian women made a lot of headlines. Those groups who are fighting against sexual harassment are focusing now on opinion making and to get the government to act against the assaults.
Their work is aggravated by the lack of resources to coordinate their activities and to take care of all victims. Moreover, female activists encounter huge resistance. Threat and violence, often sexually tinged, is used to silence and scare women and to work against their political participation.
Text: Pavlina Ekdahl | Karin Råghall
Translation: Katharina Andersen
Lena Ag, the Secretary General of the Swedish women’s rights and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, made this blog post available for Equal Power – Lasting Peace.
Last weekend, Egypt saw again violent demonstrations against the new regime. Instead of celebrating the revolution’s second anniversary, the Egyptians took the streets in mass protests against president Morsi’s administration.
Preparing for the demonstrations, local women’s rights organizations like Fouada Watch and Tahrir Bodyguard, searched via Twitter for male volunteers to help to protect demonstrating women. A little over the top? Hardly, considering what happens to female activists who raise their voices.
During the protests in Tahrir Square in 2011, which led to Mubarak’s fall, the square was for a short while a sexual harassment-free zone for women. This free zone doesn’t exist anymore. On the contrary, assault and sexual harassment of women and young girls have instead been systematized, as many reports showed during the weekend.
Our partner organization Nazra for feminist studiespublished an account from a very courageous woman who was harassed by the mob on Tahrir Square last November. She wanted to tell what had happened to her and felt sorrow and grief when she heard that the assaults unabatedly continued. It is a harrowing read.
She described how she was surrounded by a thick wall of men, ”There was no way out.” She felt how hundreds of hands stripped her naked and then the same hands started sexual attacks: “They said that they wanted to help me, but all I felt was the finger-rape, from the front and from the back; someone was even trying to kiss me… Every time I cried for help, they increased their violence and assaults.” Finally, one of the men she beseeched for help had pity on her. He suddenly took his belt and started to beat everybody around him while screaming: “I will protect her.” “I don’t know how I managed to appeal to his conscience, but then I could crawl to the field hospital and get help.”
Fouada Watch and Tahrir Bodyguard tweeted about their opinion that violence against women in the demonstrations aims to restrict women’s access to public space. Men forming physical circles of violence around women, which are impossible to escape from, have found a method they think will be effective to keep women from participating in politics and from being visible in public spaces.
But this must not happen! And it seems as if our partner organizations are not intimidated. In this question, they even have many men on their side.
That’s why it feels so encouraging to read the conclusion of the testimony: “I decided to write my testimony, so that everyone who bury his head in the sand will know that what is happening is a terrible crime that may happen to your mother, sister, daughter, friend or girlfriend. […] We will not be frightened; we will not hide in our homes!”
Translation: Katharina Andersen
Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation / Johanna Wassholm
Today, parliamentary elections are hold in Jordan. When it comes to women’s political representation everything can only get better, as there is not one woman in the present provisional government.
Today’s elections are early elections, King Abdullah II dissolved the parliament last fall, a common phenomenon in Jordan politics. According to the new election law, which is the result of two years demands for reform, are 15 of the 150 seats in parliament reserved for female candidates. This is an increase of three seats compared to the last election in 2010 and can be regarded as a tiny success. At the same time the total number of seats in parliament has increased, so the quota of 10 percent is still the same. The women’s rights movement in Jordan is not content with this low number and, since the last election, has been calling for 30 percent of the seats should go to women.
There is hope for a few more women to get into parliament after today’s election, as two women are number one on their respective parties lists and a couple more women have a chance of getting enough votes of their own to be elected. The number of women to stand for election is higher than ever before. Out of about 1400 candidates, 215 are women.
Family voting is common
But even if women will be represented with more than 15 percent in the parliament after the election, the view on women as political actors won’t change over night. Many still think that politics is off-limits for women and neither men nor women vote in a larger extend for female candidates. The so-called family voting is also common in Jordan, especially outside the capital Amman.
Layla Hamarne from The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s partner organization ‘Arab Women’s Organization’ works for advocating women’s political participation. She doesn’t believe that many women will decide for themselves for whom they will vote. “I think it is very uncommon for women to vote independently, except for intellectuals and people in the bigger cities, “she says.
It is the paterfamilias, safeguarding the families’ or the clans’ interests, who decides whom the rest of the family shall vote for. The lack of possibility to vote independently makes it difficult for women to vote for candidates who want to strengthen women’s power and influence in society.
The big question is though: Will this play a role? Discontentment is widespread amongst voters as well as political parties. The claim for political reform has been loud since the Arab Spring started to spread two years ago, and even though there are some changes for the better, the situation is still far from being satisfying for the majority of the population. There was only a minimal response to the demand of a modernized and more democratic electoral law, and therefore some opposition parties boycott the election, amongst them the influential Muslim Brotherhood and some leftist parties.
A low voter turnout is expected; in Amman no more than 30 percent of the voters are anticipated to show up at the poll places. In public opinion, the candidates are the same who have been sitting in parliament for many years. Many corruption cases, apparently an inevitable part of the Jordanian power structure, chipped away at their reputation and they are not regarded as being able to bring about change. ‘They are all corrupt’, is a usual statement. Few people think that a new parliament will do something against the high living costs in the country or widen the freedom of speech, two questions which are pivotal in Jordanian politics right now – or should be pivotal, in the people’s opinion.
Text: Johanna Wassholm
working for the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Amman, Jordan
Translation: Katharina Andersen
Nabila Espanioly: feminist leaders in the Knesset!
Today, parliamentary elections are held in Israel. One of the candidates is the Palestinian women and peace activist Nabila Espanioly. She is determined to stand up for women’s, children’s, Palestinian’s and minorities rights, even though the political climate in Israel is increasingly toughening.
The general elections on January 22 take place in a country more and more dominated by ultra nationalistic and religious forces. During the last years, the democratic space for maneuver has shrunk, e.g. through laws restricting human rights organizations’ possibilities to receive financial support from foreign countries, or laws forbidding to advocate for a boycott of Israel or restricting public support for activities denying that Israel is a ”Jewish and democratic state”. This makes work difficult for mainly women’s rights activist, peace activists and –parties and left wing organizations. ”The political climate in Israel is very difficult and challenging. All Gallup polls indicate a right wing majority in the election, the question is how strong they will be”, says Nabila Espanioly.
Nabila Espanioly is the founder and leader of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s partner organization Al Tufula in Nazareth. Now she is running as no. five for Hadash, a party for Jewish and Palestinian Israelis. This is her first serious attempt to win a seat in parliament, but Nabila Espanioly is by no means a newcomer in politics. The questions she wants to drive in parliament are the same she has been fighting for in the last forty years: peace in the region, poverty reduction, unrecognized villages and women’s, children’s and Palestinian’s security, amongst others. ”I have always been political active and felt responsible for trying to create new possibilities for children, women and Palestinians – that’s why I decided to run for office”, she says.
Those who work against discrimination of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are constantly challenged. In December 2012, the central election committee of Israel (CEC), which is dominated by right wing parties, decided to disqualify the only Palestinian woman in the Israeli parliament, Haneen Zoabi, to run in the upcoming election. Prior to that, Zoabi was accused by the governing party, Likud, of denying Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state, because her own party supports ”a state for all his citizens” and by taking part in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May 2010 she herself ”had supported terrorism”. Israel’s High Court decided later that Zoabi’s disqualification was against constitutional law.
According to Maayan Dak, who works at The Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organization Coalition of Women for Peace, Haneen Zoabi is exposed to severe political persecution. ”She constantly gets sexist comments, referring to her personal life, her age and the fact that she – god forbid – is a powerful single woman.”
In Nabila Espanioly’s opinion the incident around Haneen Zoabi is one of several examples of the right-wing parties’ political strategy to question the Palestinians’ legitimacy in the Knesset. ”Right-wing parties try to impair the influence of Palestinian leaders in the parliament. They regard our party, which welcomes both Palestinians and Israelis, as the most dangerous party in Israel,” she says.
Despite the circumstances Nabila Espanioly won’t be silenced. ”I’ll always say what I think. I’ll continue my fight for peace and women’s rights, Palestinians and marginalized groups, even if it costs me dear – I’ve paid the price before and I’m willing to do so again in the future.”
The forgotten occupation
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for general elections in Israel last fall. The elections were planned to take place in October 2013, but political friction about the national budget got Netanyahu to call for early elections. The question of Israel’s occupation of Palestine fell off the agenda, especially during the election campaign. “The occupied Palestinian territories used to be a major issue few years ago, for both right and left wing parties. But now the occupation has disappeared from the public discourse”, says Maayan Dak, from the Coalition of Women for Peace.
Likewise not discussed is the link between poverty – which concerned many Israelis during the wave of protests for social justice – and the occupation’s economy .
Disregarded or forgotten is also the question of marginalized group’s representation in politics. Even parties who have a balanced representation of women and men avoid to put marginalized women, Mizrahi-Jewish activists or Palestinians on their list, according to Maayan Dak.
According to Anna Björkman, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation‘s coordinator for Israel and Palestine, it is likely that religious and ultra national parties will be successful in the elections. They have already influenced the Israeli society, not least the situation for women. Last year, Israeli media repeatedly mentioned incidents where women had been harassed because they had been wearing “provocative clothes”. One extreme example was the attack of ultra orthodox men on an eight year old girl in a bus, because she was wearing shorts. “Segregation in Israel gets more and more obvious and the election will largely be about in which society the Israelis want to live: A more secular and democratic or a more conservative one”, says Anna Björkman.
Nabila Espanioly is certain to win a seat in the Knesset. If her party won’t win five seats, some of the candidates placed higher on the list will give way, so that women will be represented. Before we hang up on the crackling line between Israel and Sweden, she says that it is important with international solidarity, especially among women’s organizations. “We need all support we can get to be able to continue to fight, we need a solidarity movement,” she says.
Text: Karin Råghall
Translation: Katharina Andersen