Human Rights

Female Politicians’ Names, Photos Removed from Palestinian Campaign Materials

Palestinians are growing increasingly outraged over the removal of women’s names and pictures from official lists of candidates competing in next month’s municipal elections, longtime Palestinian affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh reported Monday.

Rather than publishing the female candidates’ names or photographs, Abu Toameh reported, “the electoral lists are using the terms ‘the wife of’ or ‘sister’.”

Not only is this practice being criticized as a misogynist measure, it also may be in violation of the Palestinian law governing local elections, “which stipulates that candidates must be fully identified by name, age, address and registration number in the electoral list,” Abu Toameh explained. The parties have submitted all of the relevant information to election authorities, but have not used female names or faces in campaign materials.

The “disappearance” of women isn’t only an issue in the Gaza Strip, which is run by the Islamist terrorist group Hamas, but is also prevalent in the West Bank, which is governed by the more secular Fatah. In local elections that were boycotted by Hamas in 2012, women were represented on the ballot by a picture of a rose or a pigeon.

Nahed Abu Taima, gender unit coordinator in the Media Development Center at Bir Zeit University, protested the removal of women from the lists and called on women to boycott the vote.

I’m against the participation of women in this manner. Let men participate in the election alone. Either we have an honorable appearance or we don’t want this fake appearance, which ignores the reality of women. The Palestinian Election Commission is not fulfilling its role as required. It is disgraceful that they are using the terms ‘sister’, ‘daughter of’ and ‘wife of’. Women are not nobody, so as to be hidden or have their names removed or replaced with the names of their husbands. This is the pinnacle of betrayal and repudiation.

Nadia Abu Nahleh, another feminist activist, blasted the practice:

We consider this action a grave regression in our performance as Palestinians because we are proud of our women’s major and basic role in society. Our women have always been partners in our national life. Therefore, it is disgraceful for any Islamic, national or independent list to scrap the names of the women. If they are not willing to recognize the woman’s name, how will they accept the role of the women after they are elected? If our names are ‘awra [the part of the body of a Muslim that is required to be covered], then our votes should not go to those lists that conceal the names of women.

‘Awra, Abu Toameh explained, refers to parts of the body that must be covered according to Islamic religious law. Although ‘awra traditionally refers to all parts of the body except a woman’s face and hands, some clerics have ruled that an entire woman’s body is considered ‘awra. In contrast, for a man, only the area from his navel to his knees is considered ‘awra. Exposing parts of the body that are considered ‘awra is a sin.

Social media protests against the practice has spawned a hashtag “Our names are not ‘awra.”

Lawyer and legal rights activist Karm Nashwan noted that the move was another example of how women are marginalized in Palestinian society.

“The decision to conceal the names and photos of female candidates is seen in the context of the increased ‘Islamization’ of Palestinian society, which is already considered highly conservative,” Abu Toameh noted. “When Palestinian women carry out attacks against Israelis, Palestinian society glorifies them as heroes. Then the names and photos of these women are plastered across billboards for all to see and applaud. Yet it appears that when the women wish to work for life rather than for death, their identities are not fit for public consumption.”

Hamas recently banned female student drivers from taking driving lessons without a chaperone. In 2013, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency cancelled a marathon scheduled to be carried out in the Gaza Strip after the terrorist group would not allow women to participate.

In 2014, the head of the PA Ministry of Women’s Affairs said that the number of Palestinian women who fell victims to “honor” killings – murders committed against women by relatives claiming to defend the family’s honor – had doubled in 2013 compared to the previous year, Palestinian Media Watch reported. The official added that the spike was the result of “a lack of regulations and laws to guarantee social protection for women, the lack of legal accountability, laxity in pursuing perpetrators, as well as a lack of desire to punish them.” She also criticized Abbas for failing to address a loophole in the PA’s penal code, which exempts the perpetrators of “honor” killings from punishment.

In its latest annual report on the Palestinian Authority, Amnesty International wrote that “Women and girls continued to face discrimination in law and in practice, and were inadequately protected against sexual and other violence, including so-called ‘honour’ killings. At least 18 women and girls were reported to be victims of such killings during the year.”

[Photo:  Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash90 ]