Women will decide

muslim woman 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
muslim woman 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
One million three hundred and sixty-thousand registered voters were eligible to participate in yesterday's Palestinian legislative elections. Almost half of them are women. The results may not be known for several days, but this much we already know: Women will play a major role in redefining the politics of the Palestinian Authority. At least 10 percent of the Palestinian Legislative Council will be made up of women, based on a mandatory quota system. But the number of female legislators stands to rise beyond that because of the popularity of individual women who are attracting the interest of voters. According to Dr. Nadir Saeed, director of development programs at Bir Zeit University, there were 11 lists on the national ballot, of which some are themselves coalitions of multiple parties submitting a single list. Among these, between 20% and 25% are female candidates. Some women hold specific places on their party's list because of seniority rather than gender. For instance, Hanan Ashrawi holds the No. 2 spot on The Third Way's list, as does Gazan Ranya A-Shawwa on The Independent Party's list. In 1996, of the 27 women who ran for election, five were seated in the PLC - then comprised of 88 legislators. In this week's election, 77 women vied for 132 seats: half representing local districts and half elected as national candidates. Dr. Nabil Kukali, founder and director of the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, completed a poll just before voters went to the polls. It showed Fatah winning the national election with 39.6% of the vote to Hamas's share of 28.8%. Kukali contends that people on the local level don't really care much about the ideology of Fatah and Hamas. Fatah supporters are more likely to be worried that the Palestinian Authority's ability to obtain donations from the US and Europe would be impaired by a Hamas victory. Hamas supporters are more likely to be troubled by Fatah mismanagement of the PA. GOING INTO the vote, women were seen as the election's wild card. According to Kukali, when it comes to the female vote, "I feel that more girls align with Hamas than do men. As a professor at Hebron University, I see that women are more conservative and more religious. Women will also vote for Mustafa Barghouti." Saeed comes to a similar conclusion. He opines that women are more supportive of Hamas than are men and attributes this to three factors: Hamas social services programs; women tend to be more religious than men; and women are more poorly educated, rendering them more susceptible to media campaigns. According to Saeed, "Female Hamas clergy have been persuading this group that 'if you vote for Hamas, Allah will be with you.' So Hamas will get more female votes than men. However, Fatah will be dominated by the male vote: the pragmatic and the educated." Mustafa Barghouti's Independent Party, although trailing far back in the polls, holds an appeal for women because Barghouti himself is charismatic and the party is running on health issues. JANET MIKHAIL, a Christian woman who is Ramallah's mayor, tells a different story. "You can't tell people who to vote for. People have already decided and the vote will be divided." As a woman, Mikhail sees social issues as the key, along with the need to promote leadership. Muna Mansour is a Muslim woman whose husband, a member of Hamas, was killed by Israeli forces. Muna, who is running on the Hamas slate, says "Islam distinguishes Hamas from the other factions. Hamas offers an advance in women's rights but at the same time is supportive of the armed struggle as long as Israel occupies land." She says the role of women in Palestinian society important. "Women are the men's partners and you can't separate them." Ahmad Hammad, director of radio programming for the Palestinian Legislative Council, adds that there are women like Muna Mansour and Jamilla a-Shanti - whose husband, Abdul Aziz Rantisi, was a legendary Hamas leader killed by the IDF - who had been encouraged to run on the party list in the election. AT A recent gathering of The Mideast Press Club that was held in Ramallah during the election campaign, female Israeli and Palestinian journalists were addressed by Hind Khoury, the PA minister for Jerusalem affairs. A well-spoken, educated woman, Khoury elaborated on the importance of the female vote and women achieving political power based on merit. Khoury said, "We are making sure that women present a vote that is theirs and not just a voice of the hamula [extended family] or the family patriarch. "[The election is] not going to be perfect, but I'm sure it's going to be an improvement over 1996." The writer is president and CEO of The Media Line and founder of The Mideast Press Club.