Six women elected on the Hamas ticket to the Palestinian Parliament say they plan to challenge gender discrimination, arguing that such discrimination is not Islam-based, but cultural tradition.
Huda Naeem, a social worker and newly-elected member of the Palestinian Parliament, said in an interview with the British Guardian newspaper Friday: "A lot of things need to change. Women in Gaza and the West Bank should be given complete rights. Some women and girls are made to marry someone they don’t want to marry. This is not in our religion, it’s our tradition. In our religion, a woman has a right to choose.
"As a woman and an MP, there are areas I want to concentrate on but that does not mean we have forgotten our struggle for our homeland, and preparing our children to die when the homeland calls for it."
Women played a crucial role in getting out the vote for Hamas, knocking on doors and campaigning within their communities. Hamas’s strategy to build political support through its social programmes – the provision of health clinics, nurseries and food for the poor – gained them the support of many Palestinian women.
In areas where no public or private nurseries were available, Hamas’ establishment of nurseries allowed women to be able to leave home and go to work, something that was not possible for them previously.
Jamila Shanti, elected to the Palestinian Parliament on the Hamas ticket, is a university professor at the Islamic University. She stated that the first priority of femal legislators will be to challenge gender discrimination: "We are going to show that women are not secondary, they are equal to men. Discrimination is not from Islam, it is from tradition. It may not be easy. Men may not agree."
Islah Jad, a lecturer in women’s studies at Birzeit University, says the party is at odds with itself over women’s rights. "In 1999, they admitted for the first time that women are oppressed and they have a cause. The second step is to attempt to formulate a kind of vision but it’s very unstable. When family law was discussed they approved some reforms: that the age of marriage was 18 and that a woman can put any condition she wants in the marriage contract," she said.
The Hamas charter states, regarding women:
"Woman in the home of the fighting family, whether she is a mother or a sister, plays the most important role in looking after the family, rearing the children and embuing them with moral values and thoughts derived from Islam. She has to teach them to perform the religious duties in preparation for the role of fighting awaiting them. That is why it is necessary to pay great attention to schools and the curriculum followed in educating Moslem girls, so that they would grow up to be good mothers, aware of their role in the battle for liberation."