Honouring March 8, International Women’s Day, we share the story of Salma. Like Salma, many Palestinian women endure formidable social and political challenges. Palestinian women’s suffering from the occupation is no different from Palestinian men. Yet, the oppression inflicted upon them is doubled as they are also politically and socially marginalized and suppressed by their patriarchal society. Marking the struggle of women for liberation and justice, Stop the Wall asserts that the revitalization of the Palestinian liberation struggle has to include feminism.
“If I could have had access to proper education, I would not have accepted to get married in an early age,” said the 24-year-old Salma addressing me with eyes full of tears when I asked her why education was important to women in the Palestinian society. Salma is from a semi-Bedouin community in the Jordan Valley. At the age of 18, she was wedded to a man chosen by her family. Due to her husband’s physical abuse, Salma divorced him just few years after their marriage.
The tragedy in Salma’s life did not start from the moment she was married off to an abusive man, but rather when she had to leave school at the age of 11 finishing only the sixth grade. Due to the Israeli apartheid practices in the Jordan Valley, where the Palestinian population is not allowed to construct schools in the area, Salma, like many others, had to attend a far-away school in Tammun town along with her brothers and sisters. Her parents, she narrated, could not be with her during their stay in Tammun as they had to cultivate their land in the Jordan Valley, the family’s only source of income. “The six years spent away from my parents in Tammun were difficult to me,” Salma said. She added, “it was really hard to cope with that situation, especially because we used to rarely visit them, usually at the end of every semester,” which meant twice a year.
Salma went on to explain that on their way home from Tammun to her village on foot, she, her brothers and sisters used to be assaulted by Israeli fanatic settlers. “Armed settlers used to force us to wait for hours either in the sun or in the cold until the Israeli soldiers would come coercing us to return back to Tammun,” recounted Salma. The regular attacks by the armed settlers and soldiers deprived Salma along with her sisters and brothers from enjoying the warmth of the family gathering every weekend. This was the main reason, as Salma insisted, that made her leave school in an early age.
Yet, with a tone full of regret, Salma stated that within her male-oriented society, education for women represented a weapon that safeguarded them from being assaulted or humiliated by males, be it their husbands, fathers or brothers. “In our society,” she recounted, “education enables women to be strong and independent as it allows them to get jobs and have their own sources of income. This makes the rest of the society, including their husbands, respect them. We, uneducated women, are being perceived by society in an inferior way.”
In addition to the Israeli occupation’s denial of the Bedouin communities to their right of education, Salma felt that her patriarchal society gave more privileges to males than females. “A lot of families in the village send their sons to distant schools to get proper education while denying their daughters the same rights due to conservative social and cultural norms and convictions,” said Salma. Salma believed that the construction of schools close to where her community is would alleviate the plight and the double marginalization of women when they could access school and get proper education. She added, “Having nearby schools will enable us to learn and be close to our land cultivating it and staying steadfast on it despite the Israeli occupation’s relentless attempts to expel us from it.” When I asked her what would she and her community do if the Israeli occupation demolishes any schools that might be constructed in the future, she said, “it does not matter, we will keep tirelessly rebuilding what they destroy.”
Like Salma, many Palestinian women endure formidable social and political challenges. Palestinian women’s suffering from the occupation is no different from Palestinian men. Yet, the oppression inflicted upon them is doubled as they are also politically and socially marginalized and suppressed by their patriarchal society. However, in Salma’s narrated experience, threads of steadfastness, power and resistance can be unraveled showing that she is a fighter independent from a male figure, be it her father or husband believing that in existing on her land she resists her Zionist colonizers. On the international Women’s Day marking the struggle of women for liberation and justice, Stop the Wall asserts that the revitalization of the Palestinian liberation struggle should be through feminism.