Despite the active and unique role played by Palestinian women across Palestinian society, particularly at the grassroots level, they are marginalised and under-represented in politics and public life. On the basis of inclusive dialogue as an essential basis for identifying a clear and united Palestinian vision, and for mapping a path forward, Forward Thinking brought together 13 influential women from across the Palestinian Territories for a workshop on ‘Palestinian women in Politics and Peacebuilding’ in Maynooth, Ireland, 28th – 30th September 2017. The diverse group represented a range of sectors and backgrounds including politics, academia, civil society and media.
Over three days, participants had the opportunity to explore – together – the key challenges facing the Palestinian people and potential areas of action, drawing on their perspectives both as women and as Palestinian citizens. Participants were also able to engage with key female figures associated with the Irish conflict and peace process, allowing them to reflect on the challenges of internal unity, the significance of leadership and communication with constituency, and the representation of women both at the negotiating table and within the priorities negotiated.
Recognising that occupation is the defining framework for many of the challenges facing the Palestinian people, participants in the workshop nevertheless stressed the capacity for Palestinian action on both social and political reform. Women face the ‘double burden’ posed by occupation and societal attitudes, compounded by the absence of democracy and the failure to reconcile the political split. There has been little concrete progress towards equality for Palestinian women and for their representation in politics in recent years, contributing to disillusionment with the approaches pursued by the once vibrant Palestinian women’s movement, and the ‘gender agenda’ of international donors.
Participants stressed that the first priority moving forward must be to foster Palestinian unity, particularly in light of potential reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. The prospect of reconciliation demands proactive engagement to ensure that the representation of women and the pursuit of equality are not ‘postponed’ in favour of ‘immediate political priorities’. Ensuring women have a place at the table requires coordinated and targeted work at a political and grassroots level.