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Reshaping Women’s Political Participation

By Fidaa Barghouthi

Women’s participation in politics and public life is critical to democratic development and sustainability. Therefore, it must be considered if a democratic society is to be established in which there are no manifestations and causes of gender inequality and where the rights of male and female citizens to citizenship and its practice are recognized.i Accordingly, participation alone is not sufficient to guarantee equality unless it is based on citizens’ control and on a recognition of the value of their experiences within their local community. Citizenship must be recognized as an inclusiveness concept that applies equally to men and women, irrespective of their social, economic, and political status.
An examination of the reality of women’s participation in civic and political life and their lack of decision-making positions reveals a prevailing inequality on two levels: between the two genders on the one hand and between educated women, who tend to belong to a wealthy social class, and poor and marginalized women on the other.*2

A critical reading of studies on women’s political participation in Palestine reveals that gender analysis must employ a more holistic, inclusive concept of political participation that goes beyond traditional frameworks. Thereby, we can recognize opportunities for women’s participation in public life. It is clear that the issue of removing obstacles against actual participation has not yet been resolved and calls for a different vision and a more in-depth analytical approach. Such a vision must center on an unusual and less visible transformative concept of leadership and aim to reveal examples that can be transformed into models.
A Palestinian national study*3 published in 2015 reviewed the literature on women’s political participation from a feminist theoretical perspective and concluded that the available research highlights women’s presence in the Palestinian political, social, and economic scene. However, a critical reading of most of the literary works emphasizes the prevailing separation between private and public spheres in political participation that is quite prominent in the official institutions and the public realm.
The research failed to consider the specificity of the occupational, social, cultural, and local reality of marginalized groups and recognize other effective forms of women’s political participation. It did not account for the experiences of women engaged in daily struggles to survive as they resist the occupation and strive to overcome changing power relations in their local surroundings. These struggles remained hidden and invisible. And none of these analyses considered women’s contributions as part of or related to their citizenship. Instead, they were presented as an important part of tasks that are appropriate to their gender – without recognizing the value of their status as women or their informal political participation in their private spaces or their local communities.*4
Hence, it is necessary to redefine political participation based on the experiences of women themselves and to abolish the boundaries between the private and public spheres based on the tenet “the private is political.” This would confirm the notion that if we bring together women and girls based on common strengths and resources rather than a shared status of victimhood, we can enable them to inspire other women who live in similar circumstances, thereby indicating that women can bring about change in their societies.*5
This discrepancy between the private and the public is reflected in studies that were chosen and reviewedvi based on their importance. At the same time, it became obvious that the existing research frequently fails to expose readers to the paths of active women at the political level. Likewise, it fails to account for women who embarked on new journeys from difficult and complex social situations in order to challenge these conditions and influence civil and political life from their disadvantaged positions.

This recognition legitimizes us to prioritize and focus on this gap as a matter of utmost importance and entails a number of obligations. Perhaps most important among them is that we must pave the way for the development of legislation and policies that foster the achievement of equality. We must provide opportunities and facilitate access to the available resources to bring about positive outcomes for all social strata, with the absence of discrimination. Such a priority requires precise knowledge of the various obstacles that stand in the way of women’s participation in political and civil arenas on multiple levels. It also calls for a study of the methods and strategies that were applied by the women who have progressed from nonparticipation to active participation.


*1 Swaiti Chawla, et al., “Increasing the Civic and Political Participation of Women: Understanding the Risk of Strong Resistance,” Research and Innovation Grants Working Papers Series, University of Virginia, USAID/DCHA/DRG, 2017, available at https://www.academia.edu/31744952/Increasing_the_Civic_and_Political_Participation_of_Women_Understanding_the_Risk_of_Strong_Resistance.
*2 Soumaya Abedellatif Slama et al., “Women in Political and Civic Life Obstacles and Challenges to Overcome Them in Morocco, Tunisia, Occupied Palestine Territories, Yemen,” Regional Report, Center of Arab Women for Training and Research – CAWTAR, 2016.
*3 Fidaa Al-Barghouthi and Luna Saadah, “Women in Political and Civic Life: Obstacles and Challenges to Overcome Them,” National Report, Center of Arab Women for Training and Research – CAWTAR, 2015, unpublished report.
*4 Fidaa Al-Bargouthi, “Breaking the Boundaries Between the Private and Public Spheres: Key to Activating Women’s Participation,” REFORM, 2022, available at https://reform.ps/blogs/breaking-the-boundaries-between-the-private-and-public-spheres.
*5 Ibid.
*6 Fidaa Al-Barghouthi, and Luna Saadah “Women in Political and Civic Life.”

  • Fidaa Barghouthi is a gender consultant and academic researcher who has developed fact sheets, policy papers, and training manuals regarding women’s economic, political, and social rights and UN Resolution 1325, also known as Landmark Resolution on Women, Peace and Security. Holding a master’s degree in gender, law, and development studies and trained in media, journalism, and mass communication, Fidaa has produced more than 700 radio episodes on gender issues and development approaches. She is confident that discrimination against women can be reduced.

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