On November 20, MIFTAH’s Seventh National Meeting of Women Leaders concluded simultaneously in both Ramallah and Gaza, as part of its program to promote dialogue on impacting public policies. The meeting included women leaders at the political and social levels to encourage them to participate in political decision-making circles.
The participants stressed on amending the local elections law. In a position paper, they confirmed the importance of the holding elections on set dates and on the right of citizens to participate in running and voting in all elections, especially local council elections. They maintained that this was a constitutional and legal right according to Article 26 of the Palestinian Basic Law along with Articles 7, 14 and 4 which stipulate holding local council elections in all councils on one day every four years, according to a decision by the Council of Ministers and based on the Local Elections Law of 2005. This is also according to Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1996 and Article 7 of The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adding that holding these elections by the end of 2016 is a national and popular priority. Afterwards, they said the law’s amendment could be discussed.
The position paper called for the formation of a women’s lobby to pressure for and support women candidates in light of their marginalization and exclusion, both during the election process and in reality. The lobby would also be: to review the interpretation of current legal texts; increasing women’s participation to a minimum of 30% in elected LGUs; maintaining a system of full proportional representation in closed lists; lowering the threshold to 5%; lowering the minimum number of list members to at least five; prompting political factions and parties to guarantee women’s representation in their lists by no less than 30% of the candidates in advanced and guaranteed positions; lowering the candidacy age to 21 to encourage youths to run and participate in the election process; prompting factions and parties to include youth representation in their lists; should one or more candidate be stricken from the list, the participants asked that the candidate be removed but that the list remain the same as long as it meets the minimum requirement; prohibiting first and second-degree relatives from being members of the same local council; and forming a special tribunal for elections upon recommendation by the Higher Judicial Council and a presidential decree .
The participants also agreed on the importance of developing a social and national interest agenda for women to be included in any national dialogue. Furthermore, they stressed on the need for women’s representation in official national reconciliation committees. A lengthy discussion also took place over the possibility of forming a Higher Women’s Council to revive the status of women in Palestinian society. The women agreed on the need for more sessions at the various levels including rights organizations, civil society, political factions and women’s groups to further develop this idea in its legal framework, stressing that there is no contradiction between the proposed Higher Council and the General Union of Palestinian Women. The latter, they said, was a branch of the PLO and operates within clear vision, goals and values developed upon national consensus in 1965.
The position paper stressed that the Higher Council would be an independent body not affiliated with any political agenda nor affected by any government change. It will express women’s issues, defend their rights and promote their status in society, also promoting chances for women to attain justice.
Meanwhile, the position paper’s recommendations on social and national issues reaffirmed the need to immediately begin a dialogue and on the importance of having a unified women’s position on various issues. They stressed on participation from civil society institutions in this dialogue, respect for pluralism, promoting the culture of dialogue in schools and employing the media and social networking to promoting dialogue and the cultural of civic peace.
MIFTAH has promised to follow up on the outputs of the meeting through organizing seminars at the decision-making and political leadership level in order to work towards adopting women’s positions on the aforementioned issues. It is also committed to laying out practical and executive steps that respond to and support the demands of Palestinian women and fulfill their national aspirations in being part of laying the foundation of the future state of Palestine.
Day two of the conference opened with a welcoming address delivered by MIFTAH CEO Dr. Lily Feidy, who said she hoped the meeting would contribute to promoting the political and social participation of Palestinian women through pressuring decision makers to adopt their positions and turn them into national laws and legislation.
“MIFTAH has always been keen on maintaining communication with this elite group of women with the aim of promoting their participation in political decision- making,” Dr. Feidy said. “As part of MIFTAH’s contributions towards pushing for a clear stance on national issues at the political and community level, we have come together today to discuss our issues as Palestinian women.” These issues, she said, included amending the local council law. Feidy continued, “The second issue is women’s social agenda and national reconciliation,” she said, adding that it was imperative for all to agree on the values upon which the Palestinian declaration of independence and the women’s rights declaration are based. The third issue pertains to the Higher Palestinian Women’s Council which was an outcome of the Sixth National Meeting held in June, 2015. “At the time, MIFTAH pledged to follow up on its recommendations and to open the door to discussion about our vision and stances as Palestinian women regarding the formation of the Higher Women’s Council,” Feidy said.
Feidy concluded by saying, “MIFTAH will always be your home, the home of women leaders at all levels. It will always provide a safe space for democratic and civilized discussions in the name of building an independent, sovereign and democratic Palestinian state where all Palestinians enjoy basic rights; a state in which freedom and dignity is honored and which enjoys international recognition and respect.”
Feidy’s address was followed by PLO Executive Committee member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, who called for comprehensiveness and integration in dealing with women’s issues, indicating that the Israeli occupation is the most negative factor and influence on the Palestinian people, women in particular. This, she explained was through the occupation’s attempts to exclude an entire people and replace them with another. “Resisting the occupation is a basic part of empowering our people and empowering women in this conflict; so they remain steadfast on their land and attain their rights.”
Furthermore, she stressed on the importance of working with other women, which requires coordination, support and working together. “As women, we need to expand vertically, not just horizontally so women are supported in all aspects,” Ashrawi said, stressing on the need for normalized participation and equality between women and men in Palestine.
Ashrawi continued that “every woman who reaches a decision-making position must open the doors for her sisters. This requires a revival of women’s potentials and energies and a revisiting of the concept of ‘sisterhood’’, she said. “There should be women in decision-making positions in order to represent and invest in the potentials of other women,” she said. “It was we who penned the term ‘women’s rights are human rights’ and therefore our discourse should stem from this source of power. “ This, she maintained required real solidarity between all women in light of their oppressive societies, which marginalize and exclude them.
Finally, Ashrwai called for consolidating local laws and legislation with international ones in regards to women’s issues and rights, adding that positive international intervention could be summoned for advocacy and lobbying purposes. She also called for reviving popular action and raising women’s voices to end the political division, pointing out that women and civil society play an important role in this matter.
In his presentation, Central Election Committee [CEC] Executive Director Hisham Kuheil highlighted statistics regarding the electoral registry for local council elections. He said the percentage of women in the most recent registry was good, reaching 50%. Kuheil said the candidacy rate of women in these elections, which never happened, was 26%. In 36 lists, women were in the number two position; in 156 lists they were in spot three and in 162 lists they were in fourth position.
Kuheil also addressed the fact that some factions and parties did not commit to nominating women for at least 30% of its lists, but said that women’s status in this election ‘that never was’ was much better than in 2012.
The conference sessions, in both Ramallah and Gaza were moderated by Rima Nazzal, Taleb Awad, Maryam Abu Daqaa, Lamis Hantouli, Talal Abu Rukba and Fatima Abu Ashour.