Role of Palestinian women in the uprisings

Article Summary
Looking back on the first and second Palestinian intifadas, it appears the role of women has decreased amid rising religiosity and an increase in political appropriation of women’s issues.

Amid memories of the first Palestinian intifada [1987] and the anniversary of the second intifada [2000] earlier, social media websites published photos of the first and second intifadas, which are separated by about 13 years. People skimming through these photos will surely spot the difference. They likely notice, without reading or analyzing, the aspects of change conveyed by photos that hold more messages than one.

The photos I skim through reflect the fashion of the time of the first and second intifadas. They are photos documented to show women's participation in demonstrations, sit-ins, activities, events, meetings, roles and tasks.

Photos of the first intifada depict women who occupied a visible and distinctive leading position. They were unveiled and wearing trendy clothes. The photos show the most important characteristics of women’s participation and their mass and democratic features. They show how women clearly proved their presence, the momentum of their expansion and their national and progressive identity. That stage produced female leaders whose influence is still clearly felt. During that stage, women played different roles depending on the requirements and needs of the intifada, in an automatic and natural way, and away from sexist separation of tasks and roles.

In the second Intifada as well, women participated in street activities. This participation, however, was limited and devoid of the mass and deep democratic character. Women’s participation declined due to the nature of the confrontations with the occupation. These were dominated by forms of armed confrontations, and thus limited the public participation of women, and even men. In public events, women would often appear in the back of the crowd, hidden behind veils and hijabs. Perhaps this was in line with the indirect pressure of the general atmosphere, or to mark the start of society’s adaptation with the prevailing conservative culture and the spread of religiosity aspects, rather than religious components.

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The spread of the headscarf in Palestine has been associated with political reasons and religious motives. It has also been accompanied by the effect of the environment’s social pressure such as poverty, marriage opportunities, facilitating mobility and university education, in whose growth the Islamist trend contributed. Thus, two types of outfits emerged, a politicized one that is associated with religious forces and their political project to attract people, expand their social base and create the impression that the dress reflects commitment to the ideological direction of those forces.

Meanwhile, another veil emerged. This one was known as the “social veil.” It accompanied public social pressures and formal [as in relating to form] religiosity to distinguish and distance itself from political commitment; girls and young women started wearing veil with a modern dress. Those who opted for this type of veil enjoyed some freedom and rights without being linked to a political or religious project. This veil, however, gave those who chose to wear it an ideal opportunity that allowed them to stop hiding opinions and distanced them from the political contradictions.

I'm not a fan of hitting deadlocks, as discussions concerning women's issues and freedoms — and their dress in particular — is like stirring up a hornets’ nest. Moreover, there are broad categories of people that refuse to discuss the veil and the reasons behind its spread. These even ban the topic in some cases out of refusal to talk about what they consider a taboo. However, this is an issue worth debating. Avoiding or ignoring it does not negate the serious need to discuss it. The photos I skimmed through led me to raise the question: What is the meaning of changing one's appearance, what is its effect on participation, its relationship with the religious, social and political content and its motives in terms of creating models, orientations and impressions about the quality of the dominant identity on the street?

No one is actually against a veil that does not hinder the participation of women in all aspects [of society] and does not deprive them of education, employment and social, political and economic rights and choices. In fact, we are with the veil that is forcibly connected with ethical standards, integrity and cohesion. I saw that harassment, assault and murder of women have increased in light of the increasing prevalence of traditional dress and veil. The dress code has actually failed to constitute a protector or a line of defense for morality, if we were to consider that changing clothes is a step that moved society from a stage to another in terms of culture, awareness and perception of women.

Society used to enjoy greater freedom, but it was more appreciative of women and of freedom of choices and affiliations. It was more respectful of their different roles. It is a society that protected the steady evolution of their roles without interventions, procedural measures or laws as it is a coherent and moral society that excludes appearances and pretentiousness.

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Found in: women in society, women and islam, palestine, islam, intifada, conservative
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