Are there similarities between Palestinian and American Women?

Do many Palestinian women believe there are similarities and differences between Palestinian and American women? The answer is yes to both. However, many of the women I spoke with do not have an opinion on the subject or do not have enough knowledge to answer this question. Out of fifty-five interviews, twenty-six women do not respond or say they aren’t sure. I feel that their lack of interaction with American women (and limited information that comes through their media stream) is the reason behind these responses.

1. Biology. Fifty-year-old Alia, who is educated, believes “a woman is a woman, regardless of where she’s from.” Six other women agree.

2. Career focused, with family balance. Ameena is sixty-two years old and college educated. She believes American and Palestinian women’s priorities are similar. “Both want to be successful, with careers, family, and kids.” A total of five women respond along these lines.

3. Education focused. “We’re both focused on education, education, education. It is the key to creating more balance in our lives,” says twenty-nine-year-old Khadeejah. Three women fall into this category.

4. Struggling for equality in the workplace and society. Fourth-year college student Zahra says, “Both are women and dream to be part of society. I imagine that every woman dreams of this in every society.” Five women feel the same way.

Thirty-year-old Jumana says, “Women are the same all over the world. Everyone is looking for financial and emotional security.”

Maysa is the director of a private school in Ramallah. She states, “American and Palestinian women struggle for gender equality and to get value from male colleagues, brothers, and fathers. It is just worse in some Palestinian areas than in the United States. But women are subjected to violence all over the world, and Palestinian women are not immune to it.”

It is a common perception that Palestinian women live in abusive relationships. While it’s true that approximately 37 percent of married Palestinian women in Gaza and the West Bank experienced physical or emotional violence in 2012, women in American society also face high rates of violence. These statistics within Palestinian society are hard to explain because Palestinian men and women live in a culture that has experienced violence from within and outside of society for the past four generations. When you combine national conflict with high unemployment rates in a society where men are supposed to be the breadwinners in the family, the men are more likely to take out their frustrations inside the home.

Maysa articulates it on a more personal level for us:

I’ve read reports where women all over the world are subjected to domestic violence—it’s horrific. You find it everywhere. Honor killings and whatnot is all very disturbing, but still it doesn’t mean that American women aren’t facing similar problems in certain cultures. It’s not spoken of very openly. You don’t know what’s behind closed doors. I know of few reports and studies that indicate when economic and political situations are very difficult in Palestine men become frustrated. They can’t provide for their families. They can’t work. They can’t put food on the table. And in our society, the male’s role is to do just that. Then he goes home and has six kids to feed after working long hours [with] little pay, if any. If he has to take his stress out on someone; it gets taken out on his wife. All of that—coupled with what comes from the Israeli occupation, stress, and agony—translates into abuse toward women.

I know there’s an indirect link between occupation and violence. You see people going about their normal business, but you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. They probably lived a childhood that has seen a lot of violence or violation. “Can’t go here. Can’t go there.” They see their parents spoken to very roughly by a seventeen-year-old Israeli soldier. All of this impacts children and caries through into adulthood.

Here I am, a forty-five-year-old, and have lived here most of my life. I lived through the occupation since I was two years old. I lived through the first Intifadah, second Intifadah, and regional conflict. Have all these experiences throughout my life changed my personality? I’m sure, no doubt. There’s a lot of hidden stuff that’s hard to unpack.

In the United States, if a woman or man experiences anything traumatic, they automatically see a therapist and make it sound like the problems stem from their childhood and relationship with their father or mother. Americans spend all this money trying to unpack what is causing them pain—to unravel how their childhood impacted their relationships as adults, with their spouse, kids, peer, and wives. For Palestinians it’s the whole society. The entire population has been subjected to so many traumas. How do you think that affects us as human beings? Our relationships? How am I raising my kids differently because of what I went through? How is my relationship with my husband altered because of what I went through?

Furthermore, there is a high rate of depression amongst the Palestinians, which does not help in solving the issue of domestic violence.  Forbes published an article on February 27, 2013 entitled A Young Doctor Fights the Depression Epidemic in Palestine and states that “forty percent of Palestinians are clinically depressed, a rate unmatched anywhere in the world.  It’s more than triple in the U.S., ten times higher than the U.K. and four to eight times higher than in Scandinavia, where the sun doesn’t shine for a good part of the year.”

5. Family focused, wanting to raise good children and healthy families. Twenty-seven year-old Mariam believes “an American mother wants to take care of her kids like a Palestinian woman.” Agreeing with Mariam, Alia says, “They are both interested in raising their children with morals.” Five women fall into this category.

Overall I was pleased that Palestinian women perceive American women in a positive light. The lack of responses concerns me, however, and I hope the future brings more cross-cultural interaction between American and Palestinian women.

Next week’s blog will focus on shedding light on Palestinian women’s perceptions regarding Palestinian and American women differences.

Women, education & revolution in Palestine: an interview with Rula Jebreal

Rula_Jebreal

There is little tolerance for corrupt, broken regimes in the Middle East these days.  Templates that have governed Arab countries and dictated women’s behavior in society are changing. The voices of Arab women are no longer kept in jars, and are being heard loud and clear in Tahrir Square alongside men that come from all parts of society. They range from the poorest farmer to a young Google executive, all of whom share the same need for freedom.

Egyptian women were once told to go home and raise presidents, but not run for president.   This thinking only encouraged more women to join the non-violent Egyptian revolution. But what changes can Palestinians, especially women, bring to their situation? Politicians and men in Palestine can no longer stamp their name on wheat fields, olive groves and agreements that serve their personal agendas. Three generations of Palestinians have inherited tents of exile, displaced emotions, and a reputation of being terrorists who treat their women poorly.

“Changing the Circumstances You’re Born With” Scholarship

There is no better person to discuss the role of Palestinian women, Arab culture and conflict than Rula Jebreal, a Palestinian. Rula is an author and journalist who has transformed her childhood struggles into successes.  Born in Haifa in 1973, Rula and her younger sister were sent to an orphanage in East Jerusalem after her mother committed suicide in 1978 when Rula was only five years old.

Despite the protection and guidance of Dar Al-Tifl orphanage, Rula could not escape the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  She did not know how her future would play out living as a Palestinian woman following traditional Palestinian customs.  Her peace of mind, heart and sense of belonging in this world was cultivated through education.

At 19, she accepted a scholarship from the Italian government to study medicine. This was a major accomplishment as scholarships are available only for the top 2% of students (for others that wish to pursue a post high school education in Palestine and other Middle Eastern countries, there is no option to take out loans to pay for it).  Rula now has three degrees–Physiology, Journalism and Political Science. She is fluent in four languages: Arabic, English, Hebrew, and Italian.  She also published two books, The Bride from Assuan and Miral, the latter having been adapted into a screenplay and movie.  Rula has become a positive role model for not only Palestinian women but also for any woman looking for a better way of life.

We had the pleasure of talking to Rula about Palestinian women, war and education. Continue reading