Women faced pressure not to run as candidates in Palestinian local elections. But they did, and more than half of them defeated their male opponents in this conservative, traditional Arab society.
Palestinian women won 51 seats in Thursday’s elections, 32 of them winning their places outright without having to claim seats reserved for women by Palestinian law.
Maisoun Badarneh, a 44-year-old teacher elected as an independent candidate to the council in the town of Yabed, said she faced intense opposition from relatives and neighbors who argued that it was unacceptable for a woman to hold a position requiring daily contact with the public.
“The majority of my problems were due to society’s inability to accept the idea of women participating in the municipality,” Badarneh said, adding that four other women candidates in her town dropped out before the elections because of family pressure.
The role of women in the Palestinian struggle has seen peaks and valleys. And Palestinian society has relegated most women to traditional house-bound roles.
But Hanan Ashrawi, who has had a long career as a Palestinian spokeswoman, legislator and human rights activist, believes that the situation is changing for the better.
“We were hoping for more, but this is a beginning,” she said of the elections.
“We’re delighted and plan to have a big celebration for the women.”
In the West Bank village of Abwein, north of Ramallah, Fatima Suhweil, 59, received more votes than any of the 27 other candidates, despite religious-based parties campaigning relentlessly against her.
Now she will be mayor, representing the mainstream Fatah party, which won 12 of the 13 council seats.
Suhweil attributed her support, from both men and women, to her record in building up and running a girls high school.