Palestinians Split Over Women’s Rights Treaty

Some say international convention violates social norms and divine law

Funeral for a Palestinian citizen who was killed in Gaza on Wednesday (photo credit: TPS)
Funeral for a Palestinian citizen who was killed in Gaza on Wednesday
(photo credit: TPS)
The Palestinian street is divided over a commitment the Palestinian Authority made in 2014 by signing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the issue erupted on social media over the weekend.
The treaty was instituted in 1981 and has been ratified by 189 states. More than 50 of them did so with certain reservations. It provides for equality between men and women with respect to fundamental rights and freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil and other spheres.
Some Palestinians reject the treaty, saying it contradicts local norms, religions and divine law, while others support it, especially supporters of the feminist movement, because it aims to eliminate discrimination against women and achieve equality between the sexes.
Fareed al-Atrash, a Palestinian lawyer and human rights activist based in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, has been heavily attacked for publicly supporting the international agreement on his official Facebook page. He told The Media Line that CEDAW would protect women from murder and other forms of physical and moral violence.
“I was accused of being traitor and unbeliever [in Islam], in addition to receiving threats and assaults from conservative people, but I’m used to such reactions. I defend human rights and I’m not afraid as I believe in what I do,” Atrash said.
He said that those who rejected the convention must be confronted by logic and intellect, as there were some people who tried to keep society ignorant and promoted the treaty as anti-Islam. This was not the case, he said; it was rather “a matter of defending masculinity.”
Atrash acknowledged, however, that the CEDAW included some terms that were contrary to Islam. He personally doesn’t approve of them, but that doesn’t give any party the right to deprive society of the benefits of the convention, he said.
“Despite all the complications of the matter, the entire discussion about the CEDAW agreement is healthy for Palestinian society, as [it helped make] people aware of the issue and actually discuss it widely, whether negatively or positively; it’s a good step,” Atrash continued. “The aim of human rights is to respect others despite our differences.”
Dina Azouni, a leading Palestinian activist and social media influencer, told The Media Line that the CEDAW agreement needed some adjustments to adapt to the prevailing culture in Palestine. “For instance, in the matter of inheritance, the majority of the people refuse to distribute it except on the basis of religion and Islamic law, not gender equality. Not to mention same-sex marriage that is totally rejected in our society.”
However, Azouni emphasized the importance of women's rights anchored in the convention in terms of career and equal work opportunities. “I believe there should be space for those who believe in the agreement and its terms, and at the same time, space for those who don’t to practice their religious beliefs.”
Amneh Hasan, a Palestinian based in Hebron, told The Media Line that the agreement was rejected by Palestinians because it did not take into consideration the personal beliefs of the people, which were conservative. No one can impose the opposite of the traditions that people believe in and are accustomed to, Hasan said.
“I believe there is a huge gap here where awareness is needed. The agreement runs contrary to our religion, Islam, and our government should have paid attention to that before signing it,” Hasan said.
The Palestinian Authority’s adoption of the CEDAW agreement obligates it to define clear mechanisms for implementation, to become accountable to the institutions of the international community for its responsibilities regarding women’s equality and to protect their rights in all areas of life.
Hanna Issa, a Palestinian legal analyst, told The Media Line that the PA was obligated to implement every part of the convention, as it signed it without any reservation regarding any of its clauses.
“It’s not permissible to reconsider the agreement once it is signed. The PA can ask those who are in charge of the agreement to add its reservations to some of its items. However, the real question here is why now?” Issa said.
He stressed that the PA should not rush to sign agreements just to bolster its international image, but should hold extensive consultations with experts first so it could make a decision based on the Palestinians’ best interests. “Religion and religious law are extremely important here. Islamic law is the country’s legal reference,” he said.
Issa added, “Our state isn’t secular; Islam is the basic religion of Palestine. In addition, our customs and traditions control society.”
The CEDAW’s provisions include: States parties or signatories to the convention must take all appropriate measures to amend or repeal laws and practices based on discrimination against women.
In this regard, more than one state, when acceding to the CEDAW, added reservations to the treaty in line with their social and religious norms. The United States was one of the original signatories to the agreement but has yet to ratify it.
Sabah Salameh, a Palestinian women activist and coordinator of Al Muntada Forum to Combat Violence Against Women, told The Media Line that equality was at the core of the convention and that it did not run contrary to the principles of the Islamic religion, which spoke widely about the values of justice and equality.
“It [the CEDAW] regulates the relationships of humans with each other inside society, which makes it very important. All people are equal and it’s not permissible to discriminate between them,” Salameh said.
Media Line.