Women's Affairs: Palestinian NGOs Send Delegation to U.N. Women's Conference in China

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Women's Affairs: Palestinian NGOs Send Delegation to U.N. Women's Conference in China

By Leila Diab

Among the tens of thousands of delegates pouring into Huairou, a small Chinese town 35 miles from Beijing, for the conference on women will be a 15-person delegation representing Palestinian NGOs. The NGOs are scheduled to meet from Aug. 30 to Sept. 8 and the formal Fourth United Nations Conference on the Status of Women will meet from Sept. 4 to 15 in Beijing.

Heading the Palestinian delegation will be Khajidah Abu Ali from Amman, a representative of the General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW) and a filmmaker. Other members include Palestinian women lawyers, human and civil rights advocates and women's organization leaders. The Palestinian women's agenda for the China conference reflects the changing social and political challenges confronting the Palestinian people. Since the U.N. Women's Conference held in Nairobi in 1985, GUPW has had to reassess the current status of Palestinian women. What is being presented in China emphasizes the present state of protection of women's rights, coupled with their relationship to democracy and development.

Specifically, Palestinian history is being reconsidered to take into account the pioneering role of Palestinian women in the intifada, which included upholding the decision by the Palestine Liberation Organization to support the national economy by enforcing an economic boycott on the occupying power.

Problems facing Palestinian women are highlighted by a 1990 report and subsequent studies by the United Nations secretary-general's office. They provide compelling evidence of the long-term impact of occupation on Palestinian women and children. Facts from the reports:

Illiteracy among women is between 35 and 55 percent.

Palestinian students in the West Bank and Gaza lost 40 to 60 percent of the 1990 academic school year as a result of the closure of schools and universities.

Such closures resulted in a high dropout rate for girl students and raised the percentage of early marriages.

There also has been a decline in the number of women graduates from all Palestinian universities, from 42 percent in the 1983-84 school year, to 38 percent in the 1991-92 school year.

In 1990 the unemployment rate rose to approximately 25 percent and increased following the Gulf war to 42.7 percent in the West Bank and Gaza.

In the Palestinian refugee camps outside the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the unemployment rate reached 38 percent in Lebanon, and the drop-out rate of girl students reached 45 percent in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria as a result of the deterioration of economic and social conditions. …

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