GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas announced March 14 the appointment of a woman as a member in its political bureau for the first time since its creation in 1987, as part of its current internal elections.
Jamila al-Shanti, 64, is the first woman to become a member of Hamas’ political bureau that is made up of 15 members.
Shanti, who is a resident of Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, has a bachelor's degree in English from Ain Shams University in Egypt. She worked as a lecturer at the Faculty of Education at the Islamic University in Gaza and became Hamas’ member in the Legislative Council in 2006. She is also the former minister of women’s affairs.
Shanti gained wide popularity in Hamas circles, after she led a feminist march Nov. 3, 2006, to lift the siege of the Israeli army on 70 Hamas militants who were hiding in An-Nasr mosque in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza. Two participants in the march were killed by Israeli bullets and dozens were injured.
Hamas holds internal elections once every four years, and it launched the current round Feb. 19 in three regions — the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and outside the Palestinian territories — far from media coverage. Only the names of the head of the political bureau, the members and the leaders of the three regions are revealed.
For years, there had been demands for female representation in Hamas’ political bureau, and Shanti was granted a seat this round, despite women not being allowed to vote for the political bureau members or run for its presidency.
Hamas leader and Legislative Council deputy Yahya Moussa posted on Facebook March 10 his call for the elected head of the political bureau to nominate one or several women for membership in the bureau.
In a Facebook post March 8, Moussa had criticized the lack of transparency, integrity, equality and equal opportunities in factional elections. He wrote, “Factional elections lack transparency and integrity due to the absence of the principle of equality and equal opportunities among the members.”
Head of Hamas political bureau Ismail Haniyeh announced March 10 the reelection of Sinwar, 59, as leader for the movement in the Gaza Strip.
The media bureau of the Women’s Movement in Hamas released a statement March 14, saying that the election of Shanti as member of Hamas’ political bureau “crowns the civilized thought of the movement.”
The bureau clarified that the internal electoral system of Hamas “allows women to be elected and to hold senior and wide decision-making positions, in addition to guaranteeing her right to joint or independent work.”
Shanti told Al-Monitor, “Appointing a woman in Hamas’ political bureau is a remarkable development that reflects the movement’s belief in the importance of the role of women and their ability to occupy decision-making positions.”
She said that the leadership of the movement has not distributed the tasks to the new members yet, noting, “But I am capable of assuming any task or cause, be it political or national.”
Shanti added, “I will prove to the movement, Palestinians and the world that women are now competing with men in Muslim society, and they are capable of bearing the burden.”
Whether she will run in the scheduled legislative elections May 22, she said, “I will consecrate my time to my new responsibilities within Hamas, and I will not participate in the upcoming Palestinian elections. We must give other female leaders the chance to live this experience.”
Women make up 49% of the constituencies in the legislative elections scheduled for May, according to the Central Elections Commission.
However, the role of women in the Hamas movement began shifting from raising children to military participation during the second intifada between 2000 and 2005, notably when Reem Riyashi blew herself up among Israeli soldiers at the Erez crossing in the north of Gaza in January 2004, in the first bombing executed by a Hamas-affiliated woman.
In 2006, Hamas women occupied Palestinian political positions with six women elected in the Palestinian parliament, namely Hoda Naim, Jamila al-Shanti, Mariam Farahat, Samira al-Halayka, Mona Mansour and Mariam Saleh.
In 2007, Hamas formed the first female military battalion and trained dozens of women in the use of weapons and fighting.
Hamas' Women’s Movement is an independent organization and has its own elections that coincide with Hamas’ internal elections, though gender separation is strictly enfored.
Hamas leader and former official in the Women’s Movement Rajaa al-Halabi told Al-Monitor, “Hamas women participate in the elections of the Women’s Movement to choose female leaders who represent the major areas [cities]. Then these women elect female leaders as members of Hamas’ General Shura Council [parliament].”
She noted that females only make up 17% of the 320 members of Hamas’ parliament.
The Women’s Movement was formed at the end of the 1980s. Its mission is to attract and gather Hamas women, most of whom are employees, students and housewives, under one body and teach them concepts and principles of Hamas, organize social events and home visits, and mobilize women to participate in field activities organized by Hamas to express its different political positions.
Talal Okal, who writes for Al-Ayyam newspaper, told Al-Monitor, “The election of a woman to the political bureau of Hamas — late as it was — constitutes a significant leap in the movement's openness to women.”
He said that Hamas is making an effort to “improve its image in front of the world, and to deny the patriarchal aspect of the structure of its political bureau.”
But Okal believes that Hamas’ internal elections “are still far from transparent and from the principle of gender equality in assuming important positions in the movement, given the occurrence of these elections amid a media blackout. The appointment of only one woman as opposed to 14 male members seems to be only symbolic.”