We had all taken refuge from the heat of the sun in the cool Palestinian stone walled center of Women´s Study Center (WSC). The meeting in Nablus had been arranged upon the request of Gunilla Carlsson, the Swedish Minister of International Development Cooperation. The topic at hand: Palestinian women: what are their situation, what are their obstacles in daily lif, their roles in society and their dreams?
The young women taking part in the advanced training on human rights and democracy organized by the Palestinian Center for Peace and Democracy (PCPD) were eager to discuss with the Minister first. In the morning they had been mounting a public campaign in Nablus about women´s rights to equal pay and had gotten positive response from the community. They spoke of the obstacles of getting a job and how they are discriminated against in the labor market and treated unfairly due to prevailing norms of being less capable than men. However, they all agreed that their situations now are better than when their mothers were young as there are more jobs for women and they can leave home to study and work.
When asked “Would you like to become a politician like me?“, all the young women expressed a desire to become politically involved, not on the national but on municipal level. All of them however, said that they would prefer to be independent, as the current parties all are male dominated and include women just for show. When asked about the training and what happens after the project one girl said: “It´s a personal change we go through which lasts even when the project is over. The training starts with ourselves to give us tools to change our communities.” Another one followed: “Politics is important in our lives and women have to take a bigger role and initiative and that will change the community.”
The young women´s attitudes on the role of their own agency in the political sphere and voicing their rights and needs publicly came across very strongly and when asked about their dreams many said they wanted to stay in Nablus and change the situation there (also stating the situation as becoming more and more difficult). This positive attitude toward the role of women´s political participation was reiterated by the older generation of women representing WSC and the bereaved women´s roles as community leaders after receiving support was discussed and exemplified. However, the position of the older women was that younger women are worse of today and one of the major reasons was stated as religious fundamentalism. They argued that fundamentalism is stopping women from participation in the public sphere and it diminishes women´s rights into a bargaining tool that can be set aside when more pressing issues have to be solved. The young women themselves clearly withheld that it is culture and cultural norms rather than religion that stand in their way.
In sum, the meeting was very successful, the Minister was very moved by the WSC representatives and asked engaged questions on the possibilities for the young women to pursue their political dreams. And the partners thanked her for listening to their voices.