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Israeli & Palestinian women meet to discuss their role in the peace process

On Saturday April 4th, GI held a conference on the role of women in promoting peace. The conference was held at the Ambassador hotel in Jerusalem and was attended by Israeli & Palestinian women from the political establishment, the business sector & civil society organizations.

Date: 4.4.2009

On Saturday April 4th, GI held a conference on the role of women in promoting peace. The conference was held at the Ambassador hotel in Jerusalem and was attended by 40 Israeli & Palestinian women from the political establishment, the business sector & civil society organizations.

The conference included two sessions. The first discussed the achievements that were made on both sides in regards to the involvement of women in the political process. The speakers in this session were MK Orit Zuarets (Kadima), PLC Member Jihad Abu Zneid and former MK Etti Livni.

MK Orit Zuarets and PLC Member Jihad Abu Znied

The second session explored the possibilities of women to increase their involvement in the peace process from within the government and from without. The speakers of this session were Brigadier General (Ret.) Israela Oron, Journalist Wafa Amr, Former MK Amira Dotan (Kadima) and PLC Member Fadwa Al Sha'er.

Israeli & Palestinian participants of the conference

The following is a summary of the lectures:

First Panel: discussion of the legislation on women's status and women's involvement in political processes.
MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima) - Zuaretz started her lecture by stating that the idea for this meeting was born in a Joint Israeli- Palestinian seminar which took place in June 2008 in Turin, Italy. She said that the PPC General Director, Nidal Fuqaha, called to congratulate her for being elected to the Israeli Parliament and mentioned her long cooperation with the GI and her commitment to the organization's messages. Zuaretz described how she got involved with the GI and her continuous contribution to the effort by organizing activities and events to prominent women including seminars, tours to the separation barrier etc. She also talked about the importance of encouraging women to participate actively in political decision making.

Adv. Eti Livni, former MK (Shinui) – Livni, who as MK initiated a bill to set a minimum number of women which must be part of political forums, said that Minister Limor Livnat (Likud) had called her last week asking her advice on how to use this legislation in ensuring she becomes part of the governmental cabinet.
The law, which was developed in 2005 with MK Yuli Tamir (Labor) states that women from all sects of society would be represented adequately in all parliamentary committees. The law is not being implemented, but is valuable as a statement. It could be implemented through a committee that supervises the representation of women, and through compiling all the names of pivotal women that can participate in any group or committee. Livni emphasized the need to empower women power and their involvement in security issues. The current government marks a decline in women representation with only two ministers and two deputy ministers.
PLC member Jihad Abu Zneid - Abu Zneid explained that the women in the Palestinian society suffer a double oppression: first, by the Israeli occupation and second, by discrimination on the part of Palestinians men. She Zneid stressed a few achievements of the Palestinian women, including:
1. The office for women affair had turned into a permanent office in the Palestinian government and it oversees and coordinates women affairs.
2. Working toward the implementation of UN decision 1325 about the participation of women in struggles and negotiations.
3. Having reached a quota for a representation of at least two women in each municipal council under the former Palestinian government. In practice, more then 580 women were elected for municipal committees.
4. Passing a law that sets a 20 percent minimum representation of women in the PLC, meaning nearly 17 sits out of 132 available.
5. The Palestinian President signed a document that prohibits the discrimination of women.
6. The Palestinian President signed a legal document that paved the way for women to join the Palestinian legal system.

According t Abu Zneid, many of the obstacles that Palestinian women face are due to the fact that the Palestinians were subjected to the Ottoman, British, Egyptian and the Jordanian laws and then to Israeli military orders. The multiple legislative systems resulted in the loss of a solid and unified legislative ground for the Palestinians. Palestinian women were further hurt by this void. Another impediment to the Palestinian legal system is Israel's failure to abide by the signed agreements with the PLO. Abu Zneid described several ways to overcome these obstacles and to promote and protect the status of women through legislation, teaching and abiding by the law.

Second panel: discussion on how women can be empowered in society and involved in the peace process
Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Israela Oron – Oron said that having only two women ministers in the current Israeli government indicates that we are going backwards. According to her, the manifestation of democracy is expressed when a group of women represents their interests in the process of the decision making. Oron explained that women are not represented equally because politics is power and power doesn't immediately connect with women. Men's traditional definition of security is weapon, but Oron said that her definition is something broader that connects to people and to different thinking. It is time that both sides understand that the current definition of power doesn't lead us anywhere. The definition of security and the meaning of victory are not black and white but could be interpreted differently.
Oron asserted that asking questions, a feminine quality, is an important component in decision making processes, and Tzipi Livni is a good example of a woman in a leading position who asks questions in order to make the best decision. The second thing that makes a difference is that women function better than men in situations of ambiguity. A different conflict demands different thinking, and here women can be significant. Oron concluded by stating that women should not participate in meetings if there is no women participation on the other side.

Fadwa al-Sha'er, General Director of the Palestinian interior ministry - al-Sha'er called to focus on the issue of participation and involvement of women in society. She said it is important to invite Palestinian women who are Israeli citizens (Israeli-Arab women) to such meetings. According to al-Sha'er, the number of elected women in the last Palestinian parliamentary elections was below the minimum set by the law. Women should also be more represented in the PLO. Today there are only three Palestinian women ministers and three Palestinian women ambassadors. There is Palestinian women representation in the legal system, in journalism and this is a great achievement but it requires greater work in the future. It is important that Israeli and Palestinian women jointly sign recognition of the UN's conventions on women's rights. al-Sha'er also suggested expanding the awareness and the understanding of women in political processes.

Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Amira Dotan – Dotan thanked the GI for this opportunity to meet, and said she is proud of the significant representation of the Kadima party. She stated that the basis for understanding is language. The State of Israel must make Arabic language a second language. She continued with saying that the question that should be asked is how much clout women have versus how many of them are present in committees. The power lays in doing, and not necessarily in the military or politics as people think. There are many powerful women out there and work should be done from bottom up. According to Dotan, we have to return to "people to people" activities and to implement ideas of cooperation. She suggested meeting with other women and examining the option of cooperating in different arenas - education, welfare, health - and creating small groups according to those fields and expanding the group. She expressed her will to host such a meeting next time and to find a way to ease the crossing of the Palestinians counterparts into Israel.

Wafa Amer – Amer said that based on her experience, women have undergone a brain wash aimed at keeping them at home and with their families. A change is necessary in women's thinking that would make them understand their ability to change. According to Amer, most of the journalists in Palestine are women, but women are not holding significant positions like senior editors. Women don't fight for their rights and they expect men to do it for them. Women should be more willing to fight for their rights and pay the price for that. The Palestinian society is becoming more conservative. The glory days of the peace process are over and the economy is in a dire situation. After the election of Hamas there was a regression in women's rights. Amer further said that the role of the media is to emphasize the role of women in politics and in other fields of influence, and to encourage women to being active differently.



This activity was made possible by the Spanish Cooperation Office – AECID