C Explanatory memorandum by Ms Hägg,
rapporteur for opinion
1 Gender equality and women’s rights in the context
of partner for democracy status
1. Gender equality is a core element in the context
of the procedure to obtain the status of partner for democracy.
The request for such a status should include an explicit reference
to the aspiration of the applicant parliament to embrace the values
of the Council of Europe, which are pluralist and gender parity-based democracy,
the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
It should also include a commitment to encourage balanced participation
of women and men in public and political life.Note
Furthermore, the parliamentary delegation enjoying partner
for democracy status should, insofar as the number of its members
allows, be composed so as to ensure a fair representation of the
political parties or groups in that parliament and to include at
least the same percentage of the under-represented sex as is present
in the parliament, and in any case one representative of each sex.Note
4. In the light of my mandate as rapporteur of the Committee
on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, in the present opinion
I shall take stock of the situation of gender equality in the territories
under the Palestinian National Authority, highlighting achievements
and remaining challenges.
2 Women’s representation in politics
2.1 At parliamentary level
5. Women account for 7.5% of the Palestinian National
Council (56 out of 744 members). Thanks to a quota system, the share
is higher (around 13% and 17 members out of 132) in the Palestinian
Legislative Council, which forms part of the Palestinian National
Council. The General Elections Law (No. 9 of 2005) introduced a quota
system: political parties must have at least one woman among the
first three candidates on the list, at least one woman among the
next four, and one woman among every five for the rest of the list.
6. None of the 14 parliamentary committees of the Palestinian
Legislative Council deals specifically with women’s rights and gender
equality. These fall within the mandate of the Social Affairs Committee.
2.2 Within the government
7. After the establishment of the Palestinian National
Authority in 1994, many of the negotiating teams were institutionalised
as ministries. The Women’s Affairs Technical Committee submitted
a proposal to establish a Ministry of Women’s Affairs but the proposal
was not accepted at that time.
8. A gender unit was established in 1996 to co-ordinate the work
of gender units in other ministries. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs
was created in 2003, following nearly a decade of lobbying by the
Women's Affairs Technical Committee. The main objectives of this
Ministry are to address gender inequalities and improve the status
of women, in particular by means of new legislation and amending
existing legislation. Due to the highly unstable political conditions,
the mission of the Ministry is particularly challenging.
9. Five women currently hold positions as cabinet ministers.
Their portfolios are education, culture, women’s affairs, tourism,
and social affairs.
2.3 At local level
10. Under Law No. 10 of 2005 on the election of local
councils, all lists must have a woman among the first five candidates
and another in the next five. The law also guarantees that at least
two women sit in every local council consisting of not more than
13 members and 3 women in those with 15 members. The latest election of
representatives at the local level occurred in four stages (each
covering a different cluster of locations) between 2004 and 2005.
The share of women elected varied from 17% to 21%, partly through
the general lists and partly as a result of reserved quotas. It
clearly appears that quotas played a role in increasing the representation
of women at local level. In one city, Ramallah, a woman was elected
president of the municipality.
According to a study on women members of local councils in
the West Bank, most of them (60%) said their motivations to run
for office were related to their desire to promote women’s rights,
whilst 26.7% were motivated by an interest in politics in general.Note
2.4 In political parties
Women constitute 25% of the General Congress of the
Fatah Movement, 0% of its Central Committee (in 2009), 33% of its
Revolutionary Council, and 11% of its expanded Movement Council.
In the Popular Front, women comprise 10% of the General Central
Committee, 20% of the Sub-Central Committee, 11% of the branch leadership
and 10.2% of the branch congress. In the Democratic Front, women
comprise 19.5% of the Central Committee in the West Bank and 16.5%
in the Gaza Strip; 18% of the Central Leadership in the West Bank
and 13% in the Gaza Strip; 17% of members of branch committees in
the West Bank and 9% in the Gaza Strip; and 6% of the Politburo.
In the Palestinian Democratic Union (FIDA), women comprise 30% of
the Executive Bureau and 19% of the Central Committee. Women also
comprise 20% of the Central Committee of the Popular Struggle Front
and an average of 25% of all structures of the Palestinian Arab
Front. No statistics are available on the proportion of women in
3 Gender equality in law
3.1 Declaration of independence and Basic Law
13. The Palestinian territories’ public law is based
on the Basic Law of 2002, considered as a temporary constitution,
to be replaced, on the establishment of a Palestinian state, by
the latest Draft Constitution.
14. The principle of equality is enshrined in Article 9 of the
Basic Law, which reads: “Palestinians shall be equal before the
law and the judiciary, without distinction based upon race, sex,
colour, religion, political views or disability”. The 1989 Declaration
of Independence also proclaims the principle of equality between
women and men and mentions partnership between men and women in
pursuing development. The Declaration renders “special tribute to
that brave Palestinian Woman”, and enunciates that governance of
the future Palestinian state “will be based on principles of social
justice, equality and non-discrimination in public rights of men
3.2 Private and criminal law
15. The Palestinian territories’ legal framework is fragmented
and complex, as a variety of legal systems coexist. Under the Oslo
Accords of 1993, the Palestinian Authority has executive and legislative
powers, but they are limited and incomplete. Legislation issued
by the Palestinian Authority coexists therefore with that of Israel
in the territories, with Egyptian law in the Gaza strip and Jordanian
law in the West Bank. Rules inherited from former British and Ottoman
rulers are also in force.
16. While laws in Egypt and Jordan have undergone a process of
reform making them more progressive as regards the situation of
women, the laws enforced in the Palestinian territories have remained
unchanged. In addition, while civil courts try civil and criminal
cases on the basis of these systems, matters of personal status and
family law are judged by Shari’a courts applying Islamic law.
17. The fragmentation of the legal system undermines the rule
of law and is detrimental to women as it constitutes an obstacle
to their access to justice. It also makes it more difficult for
women’s rights activists to focus their advocacy activity.
3.3 Legislation on nationality
18. There is currently no Palestinian nationality law.
Nationality rights are regulated by the Jordanian and the Egyptian
nationality codes, applied respectively in the West Bank and the
Gaza Strip. Both codes are discriminatory, as Palestinian women
cannot pass their nationality to their spouses or children and,
in principle, they lose their nationality if they marry a non-Palestinian.
3.4 Family law
19. Family law contains norms and principles which discriminate
against women. In order to marry, a woman must have the permission
of a male guardian or wali.
Under both Jordanian and Egyptian law, women have the right to keep
their maiden name after marriage and can decide whether to adopt
their husband’s name or not. However, in practice their names on
the Palestinian passport are changed automatically on marriage.
20. A clear discrimination can be found in the regulation of divorce.
While a man can divorce unilaterally and verbally (by repeating
three times the formula “I divorce you”), women have to use the
court system. Differences lie also in the child custody system,
as a divorced woman normally retains custody of her children only
until they reach the age of ten (for sons) or twelve (daughters).
She will also lose her custody rights if she remarries. During marriage,
only the father is considered to be the legal guardian of their
Polygamy is legal in the Palestinian territories in the forms
prescribed by Islamic law (a Muslim man can take up to four wives),
with the exception of East Jerusalem where it is forbidden by Israeli
law. Although less then 4% of men in the West Bank and Gaza had
two or more wives in 1997,Note
the fact remains
that polygamy is at variance with human rights.
22. Women are faced with discrimination in inheritance law, as
shares are calculated according to detailed rules of Islamic law,
applied both to Muslim and Christians. Women’s shares are generally
smaller than men’s. A daughter, for instance, inherits half as much
as a son.
23. Reforming family law is one of the key issues in improving
the situation of women in the territories. The Cross-Sectoral National
Gender Strategy (CSNGS) launched by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs,
with the support of UN Women, for the period 2011-13, lists as Strategic
Objective 1 “To enable women to enjoy family law and civil rights
that ensure equality and equity”. One of the CSNGS’s aims is to
take all legal, legislative and operational measures to reinforce
the principles of gender equality and equity in personal status
and civil rights.
3.5 Labour law
24. This area of law is governed by recent legislation
issued by the Palestinian Authority, namely Law No. 7. In 2000,
this piece of legislation replaced the 1960 Jordanian Labour Law
in the West Bank and the 1964 Egyptian Labour Law in the Gaza Strip.
It is a more modern instrument, reflecting standards set out by
the Arab Labour Organization (ALO) and International Labour Organization
(ILO). Law No. 7 prohibits gender-based discrimination and includes
several provisions to protect women workers before and after pregnancy.
Amongst them are the right to maternity leave, the right not to
be dismissed from work because of pregnancy and the right to flexible
working hours for breastfeeding. Women are also entitled to full
rights in terms of wages, salaries, pensions and end-of-service
3.6 The Convention for the Elimination of all forms
of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
25. On 8 March 2009, the Palestinian National Authority
unilaterally ratified the United Nations Convention for the Elimination
of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Even though
there is no legal obligation for the Palestinian National Authority
to provide a periodic report to the CEDAW Committee, the ratification
represents an important symbol of the political commitment to implement
the provisions of the text.
4 The status of women in society
The gender gap in education is closing. In primary
education, this has been achieved, and women’s secondary and tertiary
enrolment exceeds that of men. More girls enrol in vocational education
than previously, accounting for 27% of all vocational school students
in 2002, compared with 18% in 1997.Note
27. The illiteracy rate in the territories under the Palestinian
National Authority was 9.5% among females and 2.4% among males in
2007. The highest illiteracy rates were found amongst those 45 years
old and above (50% of illiterate women and 25% of men).
4.1 Women in business and the labour market
Although they represent the majority of university
students, women in the Palestinian territories are underrepresented
in the labour market. The participation rate of the female labour
force was only 15.1% in 2009, while the female unemployment rate
29. The nature of women’s work is not easily captured in labour
force surveys: many of them work in the informal sector; others
are involved in an economic activity which they themselves do not
consider as work, including food production and other goods, selling
or bartering food coupons, and volunteering with charitable organisations.
High unemployment rates among men and the impact of the political
and security situation on the economy have led an increasing number
of women to become breadwinners for their families. Several associations
have also been set up to promote women’s entrepreneurship, sometimes
also through the granting of loans and financial support.Note
4.2 Women in public administration
31. In August 2008, female representation amongst judges
and lawyers was 13.2% (21 out of 159). In 2009, two more women were
appointed, raising the percentage of women to 16%. In 2008, five
out of 39 judges in the Gaza Strip were women (12.8%). However,
this percentage has since declined. In the West Bank, however, where
18 judges out of 120 were women in 2008 (15%), the percentage has
since risen, reaching 16.6% in 2009.
In September 2009, there were five women ambassadors out of
representative officers around the world.Note
5 The role of women in reconciliation and peace
33. Women have been active in Palestinian society for
a long time. At the beginning of the 20th century, they already
had a role in the nationalist struggle and contributed to the welfare
of their community. In 1920, they established the General Union
of Palestinian Women, which supported women in the territories and
in the Palestinian diaspora.
34. Women’s role in public life gained new momentum in the 1970s,
as they got involved in the fight against occupation and became
more active in society and the economy, among other things by creating
co-operatives. In the 1980s, they also had a part in the first intifada.
35. Peace building and the women’s cause are peculiarly intertwined
in the Palestinian territories, because women are affected by crises
and conflicts disproportionately.
36. In 1992, when several technical teams were formed to support
the peace negotiations, the Women’s Affairs Technical Committee
(WATC) was one of them. At the same time, the WATC was intended
to be part of the organisation and infrastructure building of a
future Palestinian state, to integrate gender into all preparatory
work in support of the peace process, and to build state institutions
consistently with the principle of equality among Palestinians regardless
of sex, religion or race, as affirmed by the Declaration of Independence.
Women are particularly involved in peace building even at
non-governmental organisation level, sometimes even across borders
between conflicting parties. To mention an excellent example, two
women, Naomi Chazan and
Farhat-Naser, took the initiative of creating a partnership between
Palestinian and Israeli women’s organisations during the first intifada.
This special partnership is called Jerusalem Link.Note
partner organisations carry out separate initiatives to address
the needs of women on each side, as well as joint peace-building
6 Violence against women
38. While Palestinian men are most vulnerable to conflict-related
violence, women are exposed to violence from a range of sources
including the conflict with Israel, the intra-Palestinian divide
and domestic violence.
A 2005 survey on domestic violence showed that over 60% of
women had been psychologically abused, 23% had experienced physical
violence and 11% had been victims of sexual violence.Note
40. Gender-based and domestic violence goes largely unreported,
as victims seeking legal recourse against perpetrators, especially
within the family, face social stigma, intimidation and ostracism.
Data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics show that
only 1.2% of victims report violence. Being only marginally represented
among judges, lawyers and police forces, women are often reluctant
to seek justice. In addition, the effectiveness and credibility
of law enforcement institutions of the Palestinian Authority is
undermined by a weak compliance with the rule of law, a complex
legal situation and the highly unstable political situation. This has
paved the way for a resurgence of informal justice based on customary
laws, which strongly discriminate against women.
41. There is no specific provision on gender-based violence in
the penal codes in force in the Territories. A matter of serious
concern is the existence of rules that can be considered as justifications
of so-called honour crimes, including killings. The law applicable
in the West Bank contains provisions reducing the sentence for perpetrators
who commit a crime in a “state of great fury”, applicable also to
men who kill their female relatives under “suspicious” circumstances.
These norms are in contrast with Articles 9 and 10 of the Basic
The practice of honour killings is not specific to the Muslim
community: of the 18 victims identified by the Independent Commission
for Human Rights (ICHR, Palestine’s national human rights institution)
in 2007, several were Christian. “We have no law, and no respect
for any law. We are not only asking for a change in law and criminal
process but change in the entire judicial system”, stated Attorney
Halima Abu-Sulb of the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling,
Ramallah, in 2005.Note
43. In 2008, the Palestinian Council of Ministries established
a National Committee on Combating Violence Against Women, led by
the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. The Committee is composed of a
wide range of members, including governmental institutions and non-governmental
organisations represented by the NGO Forum for combating violence
against women (Al Muntada) and the General Union of Palestinian
44. On 11 January 2011, the Palestinian government approved a
National Strategic Plan to combat violence against women, to be
enforced during the period 2011-2019. The plan considers violence
against women as a development issue affecting all aspects – social,
economic, political – of Palestinian society. The approach, in the
words of the plan itself, is “to combat violence against women by
promoting the principle of the rule of law based on women’s rights
and improving institutional mechanisms in Palestinian society in
order to protect and support abused women to live in a society free
from all forms of discrimination based on equality, dignity, and
respect for human rights”.
45. The National Strategic Plan is designed to be complementary
to the CSNGS, whose Strategic Objective 3 is “To reduce all forms
of violence against Palestinian women”. The ambitious measures mentioned
in the CSNGS include: enacting a law to protect women from domestic
violence; amending the Penal Code to remove any form of gender-based
discrimination; amending the Penal Procedures Law with regard to
provisions on criminal prosecution that discriminate between men
and women in filing complaints; and finally, adopting all interventions
stated in the National Strategic Plan to combat violence against
7 The situation of women in the Gaza Strip
46. Since Hamas took control of the Gaza strip in 2007,
the deterioration of the political, socio-economic and security
situation in the Gaza Strip has also had a negative impact on the
situation of women.
47. Despite the lack of transparency and communication difficulties,
women’s rights advocates in Gaza complain that Hamas limits freedom
of movement and the free expression of opinions, which directly
hampers their work. At the same time, Hamas is implementing measures
and reforms which constitute a severe backlash against women’s rights
in all areas. In particular, work has started on amendments to the
Personal Status Law and the Penal Code, which would deprive women
of some basic rights.
Rising radicalism in the Gaza strip contributes to increasing
violations of women’s rights including so-called honour crimes.
Female genital mutilations are known to be practised in Gaza, particularly
near the Egyptian border, but precise figures are not available.Note
study published by the Women’s Affairs Centre (WAC), a women’s rights
organisation based in Gaza, found that 88% of the women interviewed
claimed to have been denied their inheritance. In addition, around
two thirds of them said they had not requested aid to restore their
press also reported cases of women being warned against “immodesty”, lawyers
being forced to wear the veil in court and female students forced
to wear the veil in school. Hamas is said to have targeted women’s
later, under pressure from the media and the civil society, it denied
its involvement in the incidents.
49. The situation of women in Gaza is also deteriorating due to
the specific conditions created by Israel’s blockade, which makes
it more difficult for people to have access to health services,
education, employment and other basic facilities.
8 Conclusions by the rapporteur
50. In the present opinion, I have underlined the numerous
challenges which women face in the territories under the Palestinian
National Authority. Despite shortcomings in the legislative framework,
it is clear to me that the Palestinian authorities are committed
to gender equality and to improving the situation of women. I agree,
therefore, with the Political Affairs Committee that the Palestinian
National Council meets the requirements for being granted the status
of partner for democracy.
51. Having said this, I would like to underline that granting
the status is not the end but the beginning of a process. The Parliamentary
Assembly should stand ready to provide its expertise and advice
on legislative changes that would bring the legal framework applicable
in the Palestinian Territories fully in line with human rights standards,
including in the field of gender equality.
52. Similarly, the Assembly should encourage the Palestinian authorities
to make greater efforts to ensure the effective implementation of
existing policies and legislation aimed at protecting women and
preventing gender-based discrimination, as the gap between law and
practice is still too wide.
53. Finally, I would like to express the wish that closer relations
between the Assembly and the Palestinian National Authority will
help national parliamentarians have a more focused picture of the
real situation experienced by people living in the Palestinian Territories
and of the many challenges – be they practical, cultural, legal
or political – which prevent women from enjoying a normal life and
their human rights.