I am on my way to Gaza, getting back to our office in Jerusalem by the end of the week. While I am away, the President of the occupied State of Palestine, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, is traveling to Sweden to meet with Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Foreign Minister Wallström. The reason for this visit is the recognition of Palestine as a State by Sweden of 30 October 2014. The recognition followed steps taken by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) towards reinforcing its claim for statehood, most importantly its announcement to accede to 48 UN Conventions. The first step in the accession process was taken in April 2014 when the PNA became party to 12 fundamental human rights conventions including the bills of rights for women, namely the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination of Violence Against Women (CEDAW). The accession to CEDAW opens up a window of opportunity to revoke and reform laws and legal provisions discriminating against women and violating their rights. Upon Sweden’s recognition, the Swedish Foreign Minister stressed that Sweden wants “above all to defend democracy, human rights and the position of women in what’s going to be nation-building for Palestine from now on.“ Sweden has followed through on its recognition by increasing the support to development interventions by 50% from 2015-2019 compared to the previous period in an effort to underpin state-building in Palestine. The focus is not least on women‘s rights and Gaza where 51% of women, who have ever been in a marriage, report that they have been subjected to violence in their intimate relationships (UN Women Statistics). In another survey on protection needs in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, 2nd from the top, is domestic violence in Gaza.
I am on my way to Gaza to meet and discuss with our partners and support them in their important and much needed work. One partner organisation is developing a programme (funded by Sida) to tackle violence against women/girls, also engaging men/boys in that process. Another partner organisation together with a partner in the West Bank are working on a programme to support bereaved women in the Gaza strip: women who have suffered various kinds of losses due to the siege and the Gaza wars in 2008-2009, 2012 and the most devastating one in terms of the death toll and the damage done to homes and industries in the summer of 2014. These programmes will complement what we are supporting already, namely provision of legal aid to and representation of women in sharia courts; empowerment programs for victims of violence and other vulnerable women; rights of women with disabilities in the West Bank and Gaza; and research and interventions pertaining to the practice and risk of early marriages.
The situation in Gaza makes me sad. At the same time, I always feel inspired after talking to our partners in Gaza whose resilience and spirit I admire. The same goes for our partners in the West Bank. If these women would be in positions of formal power there would not be any problems!
Going back to the visit of President Abbas to Sweden. I know that the Foreign Minister will remind the President about the obligation the PNA now has given the CEDAW commitments. I know she will stress the important of following through on these commitments. There are already in place draft bills of law to amend legislation or legal provisions discriminating against women including the criminal law where mitigating circumstances for so-called honour killings have not yet been fully outlawed. Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in Palestine claim that the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas comes at the expense of women‘s rights and the reality seems to verify that claim. Now, the ratification of CEDAW can be used as a tool to hold public authorities accountable to women‘s rights across the occupied State of Palestine. WHRDs in Palestine are of course doing that. However, they need all the support they can get.
I sincerely hope that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister will stress women‘s rights and gender equality as a top priority for the future of the State of Palestine. I sincerely hope that they will not only encourage but demand the participation of women and young people in shaping the future of the State of Palestine so they can take on their role as creators shaping their own destiny and the destiny of the Palestinian State equality to men.