Friday, February 1, 2013

Women's rights trampled under Hamas

The decline of women's freedom, equality and human rights in Gaza under Hamas. Written by Asmaa al-Ghoul, a journalist and writer from Rafah.

Aqsa University, a public university in Gaza, has introduced an Islamic dress code for women. After being characterized for more than 20 years by political and intellectual diversity, female students are now bound to adhere to a strict dress code, including an abaya (cloak) and hijab (veil) while on campus. The decision has caused uproar and sparked heated debates.

Dr. Naaman Ulwan, an independent academic and advisor for cultural affairs at Al Aqsa University, revealed to Al-Monitor that he did not know about the decision ahead of its announcement on Jan. 26, 2013. Ulwan affirmed that even if such decision was approved, it certainly complies with the conservative society of Gaza that does not tolerate attire showing women’s curves.

Dr. Faiq al-Naouk, advisor for managerial affairs in Al Aqsa University and the decision maker, expressly denied the “Taliban” aspect of this decision. He reiterated that it was unanimously approved two months ago and would be implemented at the beginning of the next semester, underlining that he was not a representative of Hamas in the university board.

Naouk elaborated on the implementation process, stressing that it was a matter of “persuasion” not “coercion.” Female employees would stand at the front gate of the university to observe the students; any female with alluring apparel would be reprimanded, once or twice, until she abided by the decision. “If we were intransigent, I would not have received you while you were unveiled, but even though you weren’t veiled, we received you and gave you an interview. We are not extreme, we are moderate,” declared Naouk, addressing Al-Monitor’s reporter...

“Women’s rights in Gaza are regressing. Many decisions are being passed in secret and only become public by chance, such as the decision to destroy curriculum books that are thought to be morally corrupting, in addition to the imposition of the hijab in schools and the prohibition of female participation in folklore dancing. When Hamas officials are asked about these matters, they always end up finding shallow justifications,” said feminist activist Dunia al-Amal Ismail.

Ismail contends that whenever women call for change and an improvement in their social situation, they are asked to put their demands on hold under the pretext that it is not the right time; the people are fighting the Israeli occupation. Ismail, however, notes dangerous changes being made by the government pertaining to the endorsement of the penal code without informing the feminist movement. Causes like gender equality are seen as a western product and feminist movements are thought to contradict Islamic feminism. “Accusations are heaped upon the feminist movement, even though the struggle it led — on the level of amending laws and imposing quotas for women — has ushered in the participation of Hamas’ women in the legislative council,” she added...

Article 18 of the 1936 penal code, applicable in the Gaza Strip and used by judges to mitigate the sentence of a murderer who kills his daughter, wife, mother, sister or relative in the name of “honor” states the following: “Any person who commits a crime to defend himself or another person or their money, honor or pride shall benefit from a reduced sentence.”

Haroun says that the issue with the penal code is not limited to this article alone, but also includes several articles and provisions that should be amended. Several articles have been suspended because their modification requires a lot of effort. They are based on an old and hackneyed law and should be replaced by a unified Palestinian law in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Regarding the opinion of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs on gender, Haroun stated, “We are not fighting gender, but we are addressing women’s issues from an Islamic perspective. We are also investigating women’s real needs in Gaza, and we do not have to put up with anything that does not suit their situation and role. We have our own agenda and we are not infected with a Western phobia. We just take what is convenient for us and leave out what opposes our religion and Sharia.”

The regression of the situation of women in the Gaza Strip is not only obvious to female activists, but it is also clear from the figures of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics for 2011. A total of 15% of families with a female majority suffer from extreme poverty in the Palestinian lands, with a rate of 20.6% in the Gaza Strip and 12.5% in the West Bank. In 2011, the unemployment rate among women reached 28.4% in the Palestinian lands compared to 13.8% in 2001. The highest and lowest rates of violence were reported in the Gaza Strip and Rafah district, south of the strip, and were respectively 58.1% and 23.1%.

Director of the Women’s Affairs Technical Committee, Nadia Abou Nahla, mentioned in a meeting with Al-Monitor, held at the committee’s headquarters that “the statistics of the Palestinian system show a slow but clear increase in the participation of Palestinian women in the overall workforce. The numbers show a rise from a maximum of 12% in 2006 to 16% in 2011, as opposed to over 85% male participation. It is noteworthy that Palestinian society has the highest rates of female graduates and higher education in the Arab world. However, these rates contradict those showing the presence of women in the workforce, which can be attributed to the traditional mindset of Palestinian society regarding women and their role.

Abou Nahla affirmed that the female employment rate in the government of Hamas reached 35% — a relatively high rate considering the fact that it is political employment. The same can be applied to the West Bank, which has taken several decisions and issued laws independently in this regard. Significantly, however, most of the decisions were in line with women’s rights, but only in the context of the annulment of the article that reduces the murderer’s sentence in honor crimes.

Abou Nahla clarified that, obviously, there was a decline in honor crimes in Gaza Strip in 2012. Only three cases were reported, relative to many more in the previous years. She believes that this is due to the police affirming their presence as the sole body entitled to implement the law. Moreover, there is now a safe shelter for women in danger — the “Aman” governmental center. She added, “Even if we disagree with the way this center deals with battered or abused women and with its religious orientation, we cannot deny that it is protecting women from violence and murder.”

Abou Nahla said, “The Hamas government took more than 200 decisions and issued legislative laws that were approved by the members, such as the amendment of the Law of Associations, including women’s associations. Granting permanent child custody for a widow was another amendment that mainly benefits Hamas women. As for the right of custody for divorced women, judges are dealing with it temperamentally. Other decisions include those of the virtue campaign related to wearing the veil and smoking water-pipes — an activity which hasn’t improved the situation of women but has influenced the idea of public liberties negatively.”

She said that the decision taken by the board of Al Aqsa University to impose a dress code was against the law, since it was taken without the knowledge of the university’s board of trustees.

Abou Nahla added, “It is true that unveiled women are a minority in Gazan society, but their rights should be protected in a pluralistic society. Consequently, any decision that violates the articles of the basic Palestinian law will be deemed illegitimate.”

Moreover, she considered that the Islamic women’s discourse stems from the idea of doing good and religious forgiveness; whereas the national pluralistic women’s discourse is issued by feminist movements in the Gaza Strip and is based on partisanship, change of concepts and spreading values of gender equality and justice. The first type trains women to memorize the Quran and the principles of obedience to men, while the second empowers them and teaches them self-defense and gender values.

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  2. Good luck, Fafa. We miss you.

  3. Can you let us know that you're ok?

  4. Its happening, and its starting in Berkeley. maybe from one of your friends?

    If someone had told me six years ago that I would leave Islam and end up an atheist, I would never have believed him.

    I was born and raised as a Muslim. I grew up in a Muslim country — Pakistan — surrounded by other Muslims who were convinced that their religion was the one true religion. My family, in particular, followed moderate Sunni Islam, which is a more liberal approach based on the “Sunnah,” or Prophet’s teachings. That was the path I set out on. But now, as a Muslim apostate and atheist, my journey couldn’t have led me any further from what I once knew to be true.

    Until I was 14, I simply accepted everything I’d been told about Islam. I was taught that being born into a Muslim family is a blessing and is the greatest gift that Allah can bestow upon someone. I initially thought the Sunni path I followed was the one true path, just like my Shia, Bori and Ismaili friends adhered to the teachings of the sects their families followed. I noticed how everyone around me claimed to have a monopoly on the truth, which made me question who was actually right. I started to view Islam — and religion in general — as something dogmatic, irrational, unscientific and, most of all, completely sexist.

    A feminist since age 10, it’s always been hard for me to reconcile my feminism with my faith. Even though the Pakistani society in which I grew up was sexist, my family has always been very progressive. As a result, I never accepted the male superiority and traditional gender roles that were part of my society. For most of my teen years, I felt torn apart by my contradictory beliefs. On one hand, I was a radical feminist who supported gay rights. But on the other hand, I was a practicing Muslim whose religion was clearly homophobic and placed men above women.

    Read it all- its a powerful voice that was censored, sadly


    A Growing Trend: Brave Muslim Zionists

    Muslims and Arabs who openly identify as Zionists are growing in number – powered by the freer flow of information and ideas made possible by social media and the search for answers in the wake of the Arab Spring and Islamist terror.

    A new Facebook page for Arab supporters of Israel has attracted about 20,000 visitors. The page, which shares content in English, Arabic, and Hebrew, was founded by a religious Jewish woman and an Arab man. It posts examples of Israel treating Arabs and Muslims with kindness and shares surprising Arab support for Israel from across the Middle East, including Tunisians who created an Israeli flag after being unable to buy one, and who have faced threats for their views.

    Muhammad Zoabi entered the spotlight as a proud Arab, Muslim Zionist in the summer of 2014. Just 17 at the time, Zoabi began to advocate for Israel in English, Arabic, and Hebrew. He posted a video demanding that Hamas release three Israeli teens who had been kidnapped a few weeks before Operation Protective Edge. Death threats soon forced Zoabi into hiding, and he found shelter with Kay Wilson, who had survived a brutal 2010 terrorist stabbing attack.

    Zoabi became so popular that he reached his maximum friend limit (5,000) on Facebook, where there is even a page calling for him to be prime minister of Israel. Zoabi's Zionism is hardly surprising, given his upbringing. His mother, Sarah Zoabi, revealed her Israeli patriotism on national television. She introduced herself on the popular Israeli show "Master Chef" as an "Arab, Muslim, Israeli, proud Zionist" from the northern city of Nazareth. "I believe in the right of the Jewish people to have their own country, which is the state of Israel, the Holy Land.... I want to say to all the Arabs of Israel to wake up," she continued. "We live in paradise. Compared to other countries, to Arab countries – we live in paradise."

    Zoabi's family also includes some fierce Israel haters, like his cousin Haneen Zoabi, who is a member of Israel's parliament but regularly uses her position to defame Israel and side with its enemies.

    Another young Muslim Zionist is Mahdi Satri, a 17-year old, Israeli Arab, whose Gazan father helped the Shin Bet (Israel's domestic security services) and received political asylum to live in an Arab village near Acre. When neighbors learned that his father had helped Israel's security services, his family became a target. "After 3 years of violence against me after coming out publicly with my Zionism and I'm still the last man standing, standing against my village," he wrote last month.

    "I regularly get threats. I get threats from people in my village and they say they will put two bullets in my head If I'm not gonna stop. I also get threats from Gaza, and from Ramallah, and from my mother's family."

    A day earlier, Satri published critiques of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, blaming each for Israel's 2014 war with Gaza and defending Israel's use of force to protect "all the Israeli citizens: Jews, Muslims, Christians, atheist, Gays, Lesbians." He proudly notes that "Israel is the only democratic state in the Middle East."

  6. #You is a safe space for Arab women to share sexual violence (harassment, assault, rape), because it is your right to speak and your body. The truth is not on you and it comes time to break the barriers of silence in our male society. Thank you for every woman who raised her voice and shared her story. Thanks for trusting the project. You is an independent project of the field led by Palestinian women, forgotten, all activity and volunteer activities.
    Speak up. Share your story. We're waiting for you.
    #تسكتيش #حقك_تحكي #انت_مش_لحالك #حقك_على_جسمك
    Instagram account: @Tuskuteesh
    Tuskuteesh (don't remain silent) is an independent grassroots initiative led by Palestinian feminist women and it is a safe space for Arab women to share testimonies of sexual violence. Because it's time we speak up and break the silence on this taboo issue in our patriarchal society. All the work is done on a voluntary basis.