Since arriving at WATC I have found that the area in which AP can offer the most help is in building the capacity of WATC’s member organisations. Each of the members is an independent body, but some of them are also affiliated with political parties in Palestine. These relationships with the parties are important for WATC and its members as they provide access to decision-making bodies such as local councils, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and the PA. While some of the member organisations also work with the parties, WATC as a coalition remains independent of them, basing its activities on the consensus of its General Assembly, drawn from the member organisations and also including independent activists and scholars.
On Tuesday I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak with Renad Zurub, a Programme Co-ordinator with the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC or اتحاد لجان المرأة الفلسطينية), which is one of WATC’s member organisations. I wanted to hear about the life of a young activist in the women’s movement and to learn more about UPWC.
I asked Renad what prompted her to begin thinking about women’s rights, and she explained to me how it all began in her childhood: “I was a child, it was on the feast of Eid Al-Fitr, (عيد الفطر) on the third day. We were on Jaffa Street in Ramallah, and an Israeli military truck, a big one came and hit the car we were in. It was me, my sister, my brother and my aunt’s husband. They hit the car, after that we tried to avoid them and go to another street, but they returned back and hit the car again. Then I was unconscious. I saw myself in the ambulance, and I didn’t know what happened during that period. I stayed at the hospital for five days, then I returned home, but for around three years I would go to the doctor and the dentist every week to make the check up, to see what’s happening with me.” Renad explained to me how, as a girl, she was treated differently than if she had been boy suffering from such injuries: “Then most of our colleagues and my family’s colleagues, they told me, when they saw me – I had broken my face, and my face was changed very much – most of them said they would prefer if I was a boy, not a girl. Because the boy is, okay, even if he had a problem with his shape, there is no problem. And from this point I began to think, why is a boy better than me? And all of these questions, then I began to ask, to defend women’s rights.”
“I began my work with the women’s movement from 16 years old, I was a student at the Lutheran School of Hope, and at the school one of my teachers was Maha Nassar, she was my physics teacher. She introduced me and told me about the women’s movement and all of these issues so I began to work with them as a volunteer at the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees. After that when I went to the university I still was very active in the student movement and with the women’s movement there, and while I was studying at Birzeit University I also became a member of the Young Leaders programme which was held by WATC there.”
In some ways, Renad has led a difficult life, but she is strong, confident and does not feel sorry for herself in the slightest. She is one of the most animated and interesting women I have met here in Palestine. Renad was also one of the first women to demand the right to initiate a divorce. Under Palestinian law, it is easy for men to divorce their wives even without a reason, but for women to get a divorce is much more difficult. There are a limited number of reasons that women can cite for getting a divorce, and judges are less likely to grant it to her than to a man.
Renad explains: “When we got married, me and my husband, we were introduced at university and he was one of my best friends. I had known him for a long time, and when we began in a relationship then we decided to get engaged and married, so we talked about if we can, both of us can get the divorce the same. So, we included this when we wrote the wedding contract, and everything was going well. But a Sheikh then told us that he refused to give me this right, and he said to my husband that, “It’s a wrong thing, and I feel that she’s a strong woman and she’s not good for you.” So [my husband] told him that, okay, I don’t want to get married with her, so we can live together here, and then [the Sheikh] said “Okay, we are an Arabic society so we can’t do this,” so he accepted our idea.”
Another aspect of life which is difficult for Palestinian women is the effect of the conflict on the men in their lives. When their husbands, fathers and brothers are imprisoned, killed or injured, women often become the heads of the household, and are suddenly responsible for earning a living for the family, which is traditionally a man’s role, as well as her usual “women’s work” of caring for her children and looking after her house. Renad’s husband spent several periods in prison: “When he was first he was in prison, we were in a relationship, and also he was in the prison when we got engaged, and when I had our first baby he was in the prison. Every period is different than the other, because it depends… I think the last one when I had our first baby was the most difficult, because our baby was 10 months when his father was in the prison, and when he returned back from the prison he didn’t know him, and it was really a difficult moment for his father that he saw his son didn’t accept him and he thought “My God, what is happening?” Yeah, but I don’t feel that something changed, I was working and strong enough to see… here in the Palestinian society we accept everything and all of us know that it’s something usual. And most of our friends were martyrs or in the prison so I’m not different than the others.”
Renad co-ordinates a lot of work at UPWC, as she explained: “Here at the UPWC, we have different programmes. The Childhood Programme contains 26 kindergartens and daycare centres for the children in all of the regions in the West Bank and Gaza. We have 3 children’s centres for the afternoon after school, they are in villages, in Bethlehem area, Ramallah area and Jenin area. Also we are holding summer camps – every summer we have around 10 to 20 summer camps in most of the regions. Also we have the women’s agricultural co-operatives – honey-producing and food-processing – we have now 10 co-operatives, all of them managed by women.”
Much like WATC, which is currently working on reforming the Palestinian family law, UPWC is particularly concerned with the Palestinian family as the starting point for achieving equality: “We have 26 kindergartens and daycares because we believe that if you want to change the society, that you must work with the family, with the person from his childhood. So we are working not with the child only, even with his family, on how to deal with him, as we believe that if you want to change the whole society then you must change the family and the child from his beginning.” Renad explained to me that one integral aspect of change within the family is helping women to earn their own income, which is why UPWC gives particular emphasis to income-generating projects. “We prepare everything in co-operation with them, for example the greenhouse and the visas and all of these issues, then they go to their administrative committee, they elect a steering committee for the co-operative and we co-ordinate together on managing it. After that, okay, the profit of this co-operative is divided between the women depending on the hours they work in the co-operative.”
“We are talking here at the Union about equal society between men and women, that the laws, especially the family law, criminal law and all of these laws, should deal with men and women the same.”
Posted By Hannah Wright
Posted Aug 7th, 2008