Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution George Mason University

ICAR News Network


Palestinian and Lebanese Women’s Voices: Missing at the Negotiation Table
Alma Abdul-Hadi Jadallah, ICAR Adjunct Faculty
Posted: 07/17/07

As I closely watched the recent escalation in Palestine, and Lebanon, I continue to be struck by the absence of women’s leadership in the political arena. Well dressed men in suits with very serious faces and many years of tenure in the political arena endowed by their lineage and political influence struggle to articulate answers to the current escalation. In contrast Palestinian and Lebanese women are shown mourning their dead. Women grieving their loss, some pounding on their chests, while others are screaming as the bodies of their loved ones are laid to rest. No images of any woman negotiating or contributing to the de-escalation of the conflict are shown anywhere.

On a recent visit to Lebanon, I worked with women leaders from all segments of Lebanese society. This group understood the value of working with broad sectors of society to initiate change. These women have dedicated hundreds of hours of their personal time to bring a system wide change by working with the entire system, an approach that is lacking in the current male dominated discourse and leadership.

Let me add my voice to note that women’s leadership has been significantly absent from the negotiating tables of Abbas, Haniyah and the Siniora Government. You cannot but ask: where are the women leaders who have sustained the fabric of Palestinian society throughout six decades of occupation, and displacement? Where are the Lebanese women leaders who have equally sustained their communities throughout the atrocious civil wars and the recent Israeli attacks on Lebanon? Their absence is noted and there is something significantly wrong with this picture.

I watched closely as President Abbas formed his new government and appointed two women on the ministerial level, but that is not enough. No one can deny the leadership roles that Palestinian women have undertaken in this particular conflict. As mothers, sisters, aunts, and co-workers of all segments of society, they can testify to the cost of war and its role in destabilizing community. They endured the hardships and exploitations that manifest in protracted conflicts and complexified by occupation. These women have been resourceful and played significant roles in compensating for dysfunctional and disrupted social order. These contributions may have been less evident for many of us as they were obscured by the lack of official leadership roles on the highest level of government and especially in the absence of improved legal status.

No society should advance without the full representation of its members. The continued absence of a major segment of society continues to pose serious problems to all efforts of capacity building in the region. Women’s role in Arab culture is deeply embedded in the cultural traditions that respect the role of the mother who is held in high esteem and revered. Entrusted with holding the family lineage, honor and more importantly culture, women’s roles are where we should be intervening. We should start not only with educating communities on how best to influence change and promote a culture of peaceful resolution of conflict, but more importantly formalizing women’s roles in key decision making positions and particularly in the negotiation process during war times and in post conflict stabilization efforts. Shaping the future should include improved legal, political, and social advancement of women’s rights.

These observations by no means present the West with the opportunity to criticize the Arab world’s lagging record of women’s participation in the public sphere. On the contrary, it is a call to underscore the important role that Arab women have played for decades in healing and reconciliation efforts on all levels of society. They are lawyers, doctors, professors, journalists, teachers and community leaders who have respected their traditions and continue to refuse tokenism of inclusion. Their experience is similar to that of Asian, European, African, and American women who have and continue to advance their roles in their respective communities.


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