Tuesday 8 March marks the 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day. Women across the world will be mobilising and marching in celebration and protest, championing their freedom of expression and campaigning for further change. Al-Haq takes this opportunity to remind the rest of the world that in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) the struggle for the fundamental human rights of Palestinian women is held hostage to a belligerent and unrelenting occupation.
In commemoration of International Women’s Day, the United Nations theme this year is ‘Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women.’ Throughout the OPT, women’s access to educational institutions, places of employment and healthcare clinics is severely impeded by restrictions on Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement. While the repressive and discriminatory policies exercised by Israel against the free movement of Palestinians have had a devastating effect on the entire population, the disproportionate impact on Palestinian women, who are denied the most basic economic and social rights guaranteed to them by international law, cannot be overstated.
The Annexation Wall, which appropriates lands, disconnects communities, and restricts access to medical care, schools, and workplaces, is only one of numerous pernicious policies that violate Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement. Travel time and costs are greatly multiplied by the Wall, its associated permit regime and over 500 other obstacles to free movement in the OPT, including checkpoints and road blocks. The restrictions imposed by Israel have a gender specific impact and present particular risks for, amongst others, expectant mothers, female students and workers, resulting in the denial of their right to health, education, decent work and an adequate standard of living. The socio-economic instability that these violations have wrought in the OPT - perhaps most notable in the Gaza Strip where severe deprivation is aggravated by the continuing policy of closure - coupled with the loss of many male members of Palestinian society to Israeli detention or violence, has contributed to the stresses of family life and created conditions rife for domestic violence.
Palestinian women are also disproportionately affected by Israeli policies and laws which, through a complex system of permits and administrative bureaucracy, prevent Palestinians with different residency from living together as a family. Palestinians with West Bank identification cards are prevented from residing with their family in occupied East Jerusalem, while Palestinians from the Gaza Strip are prohibited from joining a spouse in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. In addition, arbitrary nationality laws deny Palestinian family members with a foreign passport entry at Israeli-controlled borders. Israel’s denial of family reunification places on many women the burden of raising children in the absence of a father, with the consequent negative economic and financial impact that this brings.
The matrix of restrictions imposed by Israel in the OPT cripples the movement of Palestinian women, and results in additional and multiple violations of Palestinian women’s rights, including the right to freedom from unlawful and arbitrary interference with the home, the right to work and the right to freedom from discrimination in the exercise of these rights. Such policies are implemented in flagrant violation of Israel’s legal obligations as a State Party to the UN Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and ultimately represent one of the main major obstacles to the participation of Palestinian women, on an equal footing with men, in the social, economic and cultural life of their country.
Despite the impact of the occupation, Al-Haq is encouraged to note some Palestinian-led milestones in the struggle for the promotion of gender equality and protection of women, including provisions in the latest draft of the new penal code for abolishing the death penalty and protecting women from violence, and efforts to include more women in the judiciary. Further, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated at the conclusion of her recent visit to Israel and the OPT, human rights defenders and civil society organisations devoted to the rights of women in the Gaza Strip are to be commended for their courageous efforts to promote human rights, accountability and the respect for the rule of law.
Al-Haq calls on the Palestinian authorities to further incorporate women’s rights in policymaking by adopting concrete measures to combat the oppression of women in the private and public spheres and to promote gender equality. In line with Security Council Resolution 1325, which called for the increased representation of women in mechanisms of conflict resolution, Al-Haq urges the Palestinian authorities to strengthen the involvement of Palestinian women in the political sphere, to ensure that their needs and interests are provided for.
For all the strides Palestinian women make, their successes are inherently fragile. Restrictions on the right to freedom of movement contribute to the denial of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and remain a major impediment to achieving gender equality in the OPT. On International Women’s Day, a day of global action and mass mobilisation, Al-Haq urges the international community to stand in solidarity with Palestinian women and take effective action to ensure that their rights and freedoms under international human rights and humanitarian law are upheld.