Gender Roles in Palestine

by Anushka Singh (India)

  This article highlights the gender roles associated with men and women in the context of Palestine. I focused on the social and cultural conditioning that perpetuates the associations with gender identities of masculinity and femininity. Further, I explored gender inequality in conflict resolution and how gender roles shape the power structures of resistance in Palestine. I found many systemic barriers that impede women’s participation in political processes in Palestine. These include social norms, gender dichotomies and the victimization of women and girls.

        The gender roles and cultural norms are greatly affected by the contextual framework of the situation in Palestine. The immense political and economic instability in the region has made family the center of all forms of social life. The traditional gender roles prescribed to family members are emphasized. I referred to a journal that examined the perception of gender in students’ textbooks in History, Civics and National Education in Palestine. The study showed that men were associated with the idea of “public/war/protector” while women were characterized under “private/peace/victim”. Women and girls were first and foremost seen as “wife”, “mother” and “daughter”. Their identity originated in their identity in relation to the family. Essentially, the social system stripped them of an individual identity. On certain pages in the textbooks, they emphasized women’s equal opportunity in the workforce but any trace of gender equality was diminished by a picture of a family carrying out traditional and socially acceptable gender roles.

         In respect to conflict resolution, family obligations and social norms prevent women from actively seeking political participation. The gender gap poses a huge threat to conflict resolution in Palestine. With half the segment of the population virtually unrepresented in the political sphere, the voices of women and girls are unaddressed now and will be unaddressed for future generations. The decisions made today will influence the next generations and if women are not given the space to participate gender equality will not persist later.

         The perception of women solely as “victims of occupation and patriarchy” set back any progress in gender equality in Palestine. Women are victimized and deemed as unable to make decisions and participate in political processes. More importantly, cultural relativism causes a huge discrepancy between international and national legislation and the enforcement of these policies. Cultural relativism is when policies are put forward without any consideration for the cultural and social standards that permeate the region. It reflects a lack of contextualizing the situation and leads to huge gaps in implementation.

         When society hinders the integration of women into the social and political sphere, they inadvertently threaten human rights and advocate gender inequality. As child-bearers, women are endowed with the responsibility of bearing many children to increase numbers and sustain the nation. In the name of nation-building, many women in Palestine are prevented from getting abortions and are discouraged from using contraceptives. This degrades their position in society and is a violation of their reproductive rights.

        The success of Palestinian society towards achieving gender equality is brought out by a Palestinian musician, Bashar Murad. Murad’s song, “More Like You” is somewhat a tribute to certain individuals in Palestine who have exemplified breaking the gender boundaries created by society. It is a powerful and emotive song that is a reminder of the accomplishments the world has made so far towards ending gender identities and inequalities.

         While researching for my project I realized that the only way to end gender inequality in Palestine or in the world is to have gender mainstreaming across every field and dimension. Further, we must acknowledge that the systemic power structures that conserve gender inequality have been institutionalized and normalized for centuries, so much to the fact that they are often unconsciously promoted. For this reason, any change in the effort towards putting men and women on an equal footing is not instantaneous. Years of social conditioning created these norms and it will take many more to combat them but we must take steps now if we want to see any change in the foreseeable future.