موءؤدة و محررة: You've Only Buried Seeds

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Palestine’s legal system is broken and its burying women’s voices. 

As a Palestinian feminist and women’s rights activist, I’ve embarked on a journey to unearth the labyrinth of gender-based issues affecting Arab women throughout the world from a place of compassion and unconditional fond regard, with the conviction that deviating from the norm is to be celebrated.

In 2014, there were 27 cases of the killing of women and girls in 2014. There were 15 cases in 2015. From the beginning of 2016 until mid-August, there were 18 cases of documented femicide.* Palestinian legislation allows protection of honor for such crimes, which means that perpetrators get a reduced sentence or do not even get convicted.

Palestine’s legal system is broken and it's burying women’s voices. 

Unfortunately, our society and legal system justify everything with honor. Honor plays a very critical role in the social structure of the Arab world. It’s inextricably coupled with the notion of modesty, both of which are used to reinforce a family’s collective status of dignity. Now, here’s the catch: The honor rests solely on women’s behavior, voices, and bodies. To preserve that honor, we’ve got to be “good Arab girls.”

The good Arab girl is one who endlessly strives to minimize her own body’s significance. Her clothing is modest, her eyes constantly avoiding others’, her voice soft, and her laugh even stifled. She moves through the world invisibly so that her "womanhood" is preserved, thus maintaining the pristine and sacred family honor. She exists despite herself.

It’s not that women can’t be or want modesty and inconspicuousness—it’s that having those characteristics enforced upon her by others doesn’t constitute a free woman. A woman’s love for herself, strength in nature, and control over her own are lost when societal standards define her purpose in the world before she is even born.

The archetype of a good Arab girl is one which saturates and structures our society, culture, and even our legal system. The moment women are born onto this earth, our bodies as flesh and blood was no longer simply that. Instead, they are transformed into an abstraction. As our bodies are the vessels containing the family honor, our control over it is forfeited.

I must say here that the Arab world is not synonymous with the oppression of women—but when we act unjustly towards women, oppress them, and deny them the right to opportunity, then we are confirming the stereotypes for the Arabs which the world has given us.

Why do I have to choose between my feminism and my Arab identity? I should be able to love my body without the slut-shaming, to dismiss oppressive notions of honor because I believe in individual freedom, and to want equal opportunities for both men and women in Palestine. The occupation does not exonerate the State of Palestine from its due human rights obligation to prevent, investigate, punish and provide remedies for acts of gender-based violence. 

We have been occupied for 70 years. Why do we keep waiting for occupation to end before tending to serious socio-cultural issues? Because we’ve waited so long, using occupation as the rug under which we brush socio-cultural issues, we’ve let generations of women pass us by who dealt with gender-based discrimination and oppression. I don’t want another day to pass by, another woman to suffer, because we’re terrified to disrupt the power structure and shatter the fragile male ego upon which our society is built.

We’ve conflated tradition with gender-based discrimination and it’s crippling what used to be a vibrant culture. Our culture is this: Traveling from city to city, you’re led through mountains and hills painted in long green grasses and dotted with crimson poppy-flowers. Our traditional homes are decaying with majesty. Our people are friendly, treating one another like neighbors and even like family. Here in Palestine, our flowers start blooming in the Winter despite the harsh cold. I think that speaks to the nature of our resilience and persistence to offer beauty to one another and to the world. This is the Palestine we should defend and show the world.

Palestinian feminism, that is feminism in which Palestinian women are equal to men in the eyes of the law, in politics, and in society, will empower women to contribute to Palestine’s growth. To fight the occupation, we need all hands on deck.

Yasmeen MjalliComment