A study conducted by AWRAD, Arab World for Research and Development for MIFTAH entitled: “Palestinian public opinion approaches on women’s political participation in efforts to achieve civic peace”, recommended the need to set up a broad national mechanism to organize and institutionalize women’s participation in reconciliation and civic peace. This participation would be part of united national and programmatic efforts that include unions, organizations and parties with mutual interests. At the same time, it would prepare women to take on more positions and responsibilities in broader political fields such as negotiations and achieving peace.
This recommendation was made during a meeting held by MIFTAH in coordination with AWRAD in which the study was presented and its results discussed. The study is part of the project “Raising women’s voices in the Middle East”, which aims at ensuring that sectors of civil society, including women and youth, can impact the political system. The study was carried out in partnership with the Culture and Free Thought Association in the Gaza Strip and was funded by OXFAM.
AWRAD director Dr. Nader Said said during his presentation of the study’s results that, “We cannot separate between the study and overall reality, just as we cannot separate women from the current situation; not all women are from the same background or the same nature. They are different, with different interests, opinions and aspirations.” Saeed continued that the study attempted to understand women’s political and social tendencies in regards to civic peace. “We found there was no dispute over the role of women in family and social cohesion. However, on the subject of women’s contributions to political decisions, the percentages dwindle the higher the priorities and responsibilities become because people believe men are more capable of carrying them out.” In this regard, Said said the results showed a ‘gap in gender whereby women had a higher conviction of equality in all fields while the percentages decreased among men.
Saeed continued that the results showed a ‘general acknowledgment of the role of women in social and familial and even public life” but that this acknowledgment waned when it came to political participation. The gap only widened when it came to achieving reconciliation and peace and on the subject of war, in addition to decision-making positions. The results also showed that levels of interaction in political and national participation were higher in the Gaza Strip than in the West Bank.
Meanwhile, the participants stressed on the importance of the study’s results to be published in the media and distributed to organizations, especial civil society and human rights organizations.
They stressed on the importance of understanding that there is a gender gap when it comes to women’s participation in achieving national reconciliation and ending the division, given that women have been excluded from achieving reconciliation, reconstruction and negotiations. They said it was imperative to change the discourse of civil society and local organizations in order to reach a level of broader social and political participation among women and men, especially in the Jerusalem district.
The participants concluded with a number of recommendations including: promoting the role of women in various fields through highlighting positive and successful examples of women and women’s organizations that are active and effective in these fields; promoting media coverage of women’s activities in civic peace, reconciliation and peace in general; designing a training and empowerment program for active and interested women, especially youths and students, to introduce them to best practices and to strengthen their skills in achieving civic peace and reconciliation.
The participants also stressed on the importance of youth training, both male and female, so they could conduct awareness campaigns in conflict resolution and civic peace and in the use of modern and conventional media tools. They would also be introduced to the most important laws and international conventions that protect citizens’ rights in general, and women’s rights in particular, during times of conflict and war.
They also suggested setting up a regular television or radio program that addresses rights during conflict and war and stressed on the need to hold a series of accountability sessions for parties and government organizations to encourage broader women’s participation in decision-making positions. It would also encourage institutions, unions, federations and local councils in this direction, including agreeing with them on clear mechanisms to ensure active participation of women in discussions and meetings on social and policy issues in local communities.
It should be noted that the study highlighted a number of conclusions in need of follow-up in the future, such as: the many internal and external challenges on the Palestinian agenda including economic, social, institutional and political challenges. In addition, the recent increase in Israeli violence and killing (since October 2015), renders any discussion of peacefully resolving conflicts a more difficult task, full of pitfalls and skepticism.
As for the role of women, the study showed its linkage to the overall context. That is, in light of the failure of men “the decision-makers” to achieve national reconciliation or peace, it cannot be expected that the role of women in this regard would receive any higher assessment.
The study confirmed that civil and social establishments are the most interested in women’s participation and are the closest to the people. As for political parties, they have taken a ‘back seat” in this regard. The study showed that less than 13% of men and 5% of women participated in political meetings. As for their belief that they can impact the decision-making process, the assessment was low, something which can be attributed to the absence of a legislative institution, the political division and the weak government establishment.
The study also exposed several obstacles pertaining to decision-making. The results conveyed a belief in the lack of or weakness in any ability to affect the decision-making process on the ground. This is indicative of the frustration towards the political reality and the sense of futility in the process of participation, coupled with the weak awareness in legal and human rights whether in local or international laws.
The results revealed that the role of official institutions has not trumped that of traditional institutions in solving problems and conflicts; declarations on resorting to legal institutions was much lower than declarations about resorting to familial and tribal institutions. Furthermore, political conditions and the situation of government organizations in the Gaza Strip has led to a relative rise in familial/tribal bodies taking the law into their own hands compared with the West Bank.