Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Family Roles of Contemporary Palestinian Women

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Family Roles of Contemporary Palestinian Women

Article excerpt

Since 1948, tens of thousands of Palestinians have fled their homes due to fighting between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Consequently, Palestinian families have been exposed to powerful social, political and economic forces. Relocation to refugee camps, the post 1967 Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, the intifada uprising in the late 1980s, and the forces of modernization that have invaded the Middle East, are all thought to have significantly influenced the Palestinian family. Many observers argue that these forces have altered the roles of husbands and wives, thus giving women greater influence within the family.

The availability of education to children of refugee families through UNRWA schools, coupled with modernity's emphasis on education, are credited with increasing Palestinian women's opportunities for education. Poverty in the refugee camps, where unemployment among men is over 50 percent, has forced some wives out of the home and into the labor force. In addition, women's participation in the intifada has given them greater independence from their families and has fostered desires for increased equality between the sexes according to some observers. On the other hand, pervasive Islamic beliefs and practices have generated resistance to change in Palestinian family roles.

This paper documents contemporary family roles among Palestinian families and identifies responsibilities of husbands and wives. Additionally, we developed and tested a multivariate model predicting traditional family roles. The model includes wives' education, their employment outside the home, their belief and adherence to Islam, and their participation in the intifada as predictors of family roles. This paper does not directly assess whether family roles have changed, except to contrast contemporary roles to widely accepted "traditional" roles. Rather, we identify contemporary family roles and whether differences between them can be predicted by increased education, work experience, religiosity, and intifada participation of Palestinian wives.


Many scholars view education as an important catalyst in changing traditional family roles within Palestinian society (Azzam, 1978; Hjarpe, 1983; Warnock, 1990; and Geadah, 1992). For example, Buvinic (1976) asserts that women's educational attainment has raised wives' status and autonomy within the family, such that she is more involved with her husband in making important family decisions. In addition, some feel that education exposes women to non-traditional role models and to ideologies supportive of greater equality in marriage and greater independence from fathers, husbands and extended family. For example, a study of 1, 149 Palestinian university students and non-students of similar age from Nablus, Bethlehem and Hebron found that 54 percent of the women not attending a university reported that family decisions were made primarily by men in contrast to only 34 percent of the women who were enrolled in school (Shadid and Seltzer, 1989). They also discovered that women attending school exhibited more independence and a stronger desire to choose their own mate than did the non-students. As a result, Palestinian women's organizations view education as the means through which new ideas are transmitted to younger generations (Haddad, 1980). Thus, younger women with higher levels ofeducation may approach marriage with less traditional expectations regarding family roles, while the more educated married women may try to renegotiate more equality with their husbands.

There is some evidence that educational attainment of Palestinian women has risen in the past two decades notwithstanding closures of Palestinian schools in the West Bank and Gaza by Israel during the Intifada. Jarrah (1990) reported that between the years 1970 and 1984 the illiteracy rate among West Bank women decreased from 65 percent to 38 percent.

Based on both theory and previous research, we included educational attainment in the model predicting traditional family roles among Palestinian families. …

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