Liberation Movements around the world have always had women playing vital roles during the struggles. Like men, they have faced torture, incarceration, separation from their families, and myriad forms of oppression. Yet, when liberation dawns, women are assigned secondary status in politics and society as a whole. There have been various ideological shades in the women’s movement. Old women’s organisations have an elitist bias. They are content with philanthropic, social work activities for who they deem to be “common, poor, miserable women”. To rise above the existing social order was never within the purview of their social vision.
In an article, “Israeli and Palestinian Feminisms: Postcolonial Issues” by Élisabeth Marteu, she suggests that “the history of women’s movements in Israel and Palestine is undeniably anchored in the history of a conflict that has plagued the Middle East. She describes how Arab nationalism which was launched early in the twentieth century, witnessed woman exercising “a major role in these various movements, as auxiliary actors, but also as symbols of these collective struggles”.
Women’s political participation in politics, and the lack of it, is best understood when one gets to see the vacant seats around the decision-making table, and the even more complex reality of the many obstacles and challenges women face to occupy political spaces and become a force in the political arena. It is visible that women in 2020 still find themselves in the margins of political and public life. As a global trend, while women are seeking a just place in the political spaces, their numbers are lagging far behind. Structural, socioeconomic, institutional and cultural barriers come in their way.
In the Palestinian context, beginning especially with the First Intifada, women played a significant role. Many have complained that their political participation was done unidentified by their families. They would share accounts of slipping out of their homes late nights to confront soldiers. There are stories of women martyrs during the Second Intifada when women blew themselves in attacks against Israelis in crowded places.
Leila Khaled, an Icon of Palestinian Liberation used to be referred to as ‘the poster girl of Palestinian militancy’, Leila Khaled’s image flashed across the world after she hijacked a passenger jet in 1969. The picture of a young, determined looking woman with a checkered scarf, clutching an AK-47, was as era-defining as that of Che Guevara…. Leila Khaled’s example gives unique insights into the Palestinian struggle through one remarkable life – from the tension between armed and political struggle, to the decline of the secular left and the rise of Hamas, and the role of women in a largely male movement.
Khaled, 76, was scheduled to give a discussion titled “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice, & Resistance: A conversation with Leila Khaled,” and was billed as a Palestinian feminist, militant and leader. Zoom cancelled the event and organizers labeled it as an attempt to silence Palestinian narratives. Palestinian feminists have seen in this decision against Khaled an attempt to confront hegemonic colonial and orientalist Zionist imaginaries that construct Palestinians, and in particular, Palestinian women, as monstrous, terrorists, racialized “Others” outside the realm of the human.
We invite our readers to read and disseminate this article “Palestinian Feminisms” crafted by the Palestine Feminist Working Group. It is a short read but one that challenges and makes one pause to think about the place of gender in political struggles. It also poses the question: Why, around the world, after women play such significant roles during a liberation struggle, do they find themselves left out of the power equation in the aftermath of freedom and liberation? Why must accept spaces in the margins when they have made sacrifices equal to, and often in excess, of men?
Equal participation in the political arena must go together with the struggles for liberation. If this does not consciously happen, post-liberation situations will leave women in unequal situation in the political arena. Khaled, and the vast number other feminists currently engaged in the struggle must push this agenda into the political discourse. Equally conscientized men should work in partnership with women to secure the rightful place of women in political life. Gender just societies must serve as a benchmark of an egalitarian society in every all arena of society- political, economic, social, and cultural.