Written by: Manal Allan

Women's political participation is an essential part of human rights, for it reflects the nature of the political system in a country and contributes to the society’s development in the political, social and/or economic spheres.

In Palestinian history, there are many diverse examples of Palestinian women’s political participation, such as marching in demonstrations, and holding leadership positions; for instance, in 1893, with the establishment of the first Israeli settlement of “Petah Tikva” in the Afula, Palestinian women, were the first in line to march against its establishment. Also, in the first-ever legislative elections of 1996, (5) female candidates won the elections and participated in drafting laws and policies.

The political participation of Palestinian women has also been linked to their various activities in society, including social and humanitarian issues, through charitable institutions and orphanages. For instance, “Inash Alusra Association,” established in 1965 in Al-Bireh, is a Palestinian charitable Association founded by Palestinian female volunteers led by the late Ms. Samiha Khalil, to help society members, specifically women, in confronting the challenges of the occupation. While Ms. Khalil herself was the first Palestinian woman to run for the presidential elections of 1996.

Meanwhile, the first Palestinian Women's Conference was held in Jerusalem in 1929. And following the formation of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, Palestinian women obtained a "quota" in the National Assembly, which meant that a percentage of the seats for women must be allocated to elected bodies. Also, the Palestinian Declaration of Independence issued by the Palestinian National Council in 1988, outlined legislation based on women’s equality. Furthermore, in 2015, a (30%) quota for women was adopted in state bodies and institutions.

Even though the above is evidence of Palestinian women’s participation in the political sphere, their participation remains limited. The data of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics for the years 2018-2019 exhibited a clear gap in the percentage of women holding decision-making positions as follows; the percentage of women in the Palestinian Central Council was (5.4%), in the Palestinian Legislative Council (11.3%), in the Palestinian National Council (10.6%), in the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (6.7%), in the Palestinian Cabinet (13.6%) and in the diplomatic sector (11.2%).

In Palestine, there are many challenges that hinder women’s role in the political sphere. First and foremost are the political challenges created by the Israeli occupation, secondly the political division between the West Bank and Gaza Strip; which weakens government initiatives on women's issues. There are also factors related to society, the most important of which are the traditions associated with stereotypical views that emphasize the traditional roles of women, in addition to the weak political and societal awareness of women's issues and rights.

The first step towards enhancing Palestinian women's political participation is to activate the legal framework, which will result in adopting laws that provide better opportunities for women's role in decision-making processes. Second, the Palestinian government must reassess and prioritize many issues, including women’s role in leadership and political positions. Third, establishing an academic and social platform to spread awareness in the Palestinian society of the matter at hand, as well as raising women's awareness of their legitimate rights to participate in the political sphere. Fourth, establishing a framework for setting future plans and development programmes to enhance women’s role and contributions. Policies and programmes must also be set to supervise and control the plans’ implementation.  

Accordingly, in order to ensure that women’s political participation in Palestine is achieved through legal and institutional tools and frameworks, citizenship rights and equality before the law between men and women must be emphasized.  

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor.