Wed, Dec 29, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Women councilors punch holes in Palestinian taboo


Hanan Ghulmeh, 30, a candidate of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who was elected to the council of the village Beit Furik near the Palestinian West Bank city of Nablus, sits in her house in her village on Monday. Palestinian women won 51 seats in Thursday's Palestinian local elections, 32 of them winning their place outright, without having to claim a seat reserved for women by Palestinian law.


Flushed with success, Samira Abu Sharkh is one of around 50 local women councilors elected for the first time in a historic vote that punched through a taboo in conservative Palestinian society.

"I haven't slept for two days. I'm happy but we need to think about our responsibilities to other women," said the 26-year-old mother of two, after clinching electoral victory in the West Bank town of Dahiriyeh.

She stood as an independent among 30,000 residents, of which 13,000 had the right to vote for 13 members on the district's local council, not far from the volatile town of Hebron.

In the first local Palestinian council elections in 28 years, 886 candidates, including 139 women, ran for 306 council seats in 26 municipalities on Thursday.

Under a quota of two women per council, around 50 women have swept to positions of relative municipal power.

"In principle, I don't agree with the quota," said Abu Sharkh, albeit recognizing that it encouraged a lot of women to take part in the campaign.

Employed by the interior ministry, she paid tribute to support from her family and other independent candidates.

In the somewhat conservative town of Dahiriyeh, pictures of veiled women candidates are still plastered on cars -- a phenomenon never yet seen before.

Fellow elected councilor, Palestine al-Khatib, also a mother of two and a mathematics teacher, represents the Islamic Bloc for Change, a grouping politically close to the radical Hamas faction.

"We campaigned for better council services and management of council finances in order to help the young, especially," said the 28-year-old, handing out sweets to well-wishers who came to her home.

"I want to give the women of Dahiriyeh more of a role so that they, not men, can control their destiny," she added, saying she was grateful for the total backing of her husband and wider family.

Nevertheless not everyone living in the town has an appetite for the emerging brand of Islamic feminism.

"The same people who refuse to sign the family name of the Palestinian bride on the marriage certificate today publish photos of the candidates," said Abu Mohammed, a 53-year-old shopkeeper.

Out of the 13 councilors elected in Dahiriyeh, six belong to Hamas, three to Fatah -- the party founded by deceased Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat -- and four are independents.

"Women participating in the municipalities through a quota system has broken through a taboo in Palestinian society," said sociologist Nader Said, from Bir Zeit Uni-versity, in the northern West Bank.

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