Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Cheryl Rubenberg Discusses Palestinian Women's Rights

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Cheryl Rubenberg Discusses Palestinian Women's Rights

Article excerpt

TO MARK International Women's Day, the Palestine Center in Washington, DC hosted author Cheryl Rubenberg, a former associate professor of Middle East politics at Florida International University, at a March 7 lecture entitled "Palestinian Women: Power, Politics and Participation." Rubenberg spent two years in the West Bank, from 1997 to 1999, researching women in refugee camps and rural villages. She examined the women's "perception of rights and the rights not taken," as well as the "strategies they have used within their socially defined roles to maximize their interests and rights."

The 175 women who participated in the research study were both Muslim and Christian, Rubenberg noted, and all were subjected to the same constraints of a society where "the role of religion reinforces the inferiority of women." In open-ended interviews that revealed "the voice and the experience" of the "everyday" Palestinian woman, Rubenberg said the women she interviewed were "overwhelmingly open and honest" about their perceptions of society and their place in it.

Rubenberg began her remarks by identifying the dynamics of power in Palestinian society: patriarchy, kinship, identity, religion, class and locale. These "sources of power," she posited, can only exist "with a woman's cooperation." In rural Palestinian society, Rubenberg explained, kinship "shapes an individual's identity and confirms moral worth." She went on to elaborate that "the kinship connectivity is the core of women's reality," since the majority of women subordinate their wishes for the good of the family.

Rubenberg described the dichotomy between honor and shame in Palestinian society as "incredibly powerful" and "the primary mechanism in which society upholds the honor code is through gossip."

The "West Bank is very class conscious," Rubenberg said, and rampant with elitism. A university-educated woman from Kobar, an area in the West Bank known for its political activism, describing the relationship between women from different socio-economic classes, told Rubenberg that "there is no equality, no democracy." Village women are frustrated by the lack of support from upper class women. The woman from Kobar said, "you need a lot of wasta (connections) to talk to urban women."

The sixth key of power-locale or place of origin-ties in the disparity of Palestinian culture. "West Bank society is extremely fragmented," noted Rubenberg, and "these kinds of separations are what keep women apart." She implied that village women constantly compare their behavior to women from other parts of the region as a way to bolster their status among the villages, and therefore reincorporate the dynamic of status as a key element of power. …

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