Press conference on situation of women in Occupied Palestinan Territory

Combating violence against women was a particularly complex task in the context of Palestine, Khouloud Daibes, Palestinian Minister for Women Affairs, said today at a Headquarters press conference on the margins of the current session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Because they were subjected not only to the typical aggression of the global phenomenon of violence against women, but also to the political violence resulting from the Israeli occupation, she said, women in Palestine faced unique difficulties in playing an active role in society. Despite the high percentage of educated Palestinian women, the 13 per cent actually working was proportionally low due to the generally high unemployment rate in Palestine, which resulted in turn from Israel's destruction of infrastructure, among other things.

The fact that almost two thirds of the Palestinian population lived below the poverty line also added to the challenge of increasing the number of women in the labour market, said Ms. Daibes, who is also Minister for Tourism and Antiquities. The occupation further limited women's access to education and health services by restricting their freedom of movement. The construction of the separation wall had increased that lack of access and in some cases women were delivering babies at checkpoints. Israel's recent invasion of Gaza had only worsened the overall situation while causing the deaths of 114 women and injury to more than 800 others.

She emphasized that combating violence against women was one of the main pillars of the Women Affairs Ministry, which, as a policymaking body, largely relied on civil society and non-governmental organizations to act as its implementation arm. That was particularly true in Gaza, where the Ministry had not been able to work at full capacity since Hamas had taken over the territory two years ago. But even with Government support, there remained a need for new, innovative approaches.

The Ministry would continue working with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), among other agencies, but until the occupation ended, it would be unable to develop plans that could be implemented fully. "This is our dilemma: whatever we build, we have no guarantee that it will not be destroyed by Israel, not only the infrastructure, but the structure of daily life. We always end up in an emergency so that we have to start from zero again."

She said that should be reflected not only in reports under the Commission's consideration over the next two weeks, including the Secretary-General's report on the situation of and assistance to Palestinian women (document E/CN.6/2009/5), but also in the overall approach to violence against women.

Planning within the Women Affairs Ministry last year had focused on strategic plans to develop programmes to empower women and increase their participation in the economic and political arenas, but today its work had, of necessity, turned back to providing aid and emergency support, particularly by rebuilding homes in Gaza. Yet, the violation of women's human rights were still being documented so they could be passed on to the relevant organization, and hopefully the Ministry could return to its strategic plans, implementing in parallel with emergency aid, after a few months of reconstruction.

The current international focus on reconstruction and the financial support pledged at the Sharm el-Sheikh donors' conference earlier this week gave some hope for the relaunch of the peace process, she said, adding, however, that, while there was a strong commitment to financial support, there was no vision of how to prevent a recurrence of the current situation. There was, therefore, a need to revise the current international approach.

Asked about the different situations of women in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Minister said that, theoretically, all Palestinian women enjoyed the same equality, but economic pressure in Gaza had resulted in different social contexts that circumscribed their ability to move and exercise those rights. "Under such situations, people tend to be more conservative than open, when you are not able to move a few kilometres, when you are not exposed to the outside world and when you cannot go outside of the country."

In that regard, she noted that protests by different groups, such as the one being planned in Egypt by CODEPINK through 20 March, were symbolically very important in making Gazans feel connected to the outside world and encouraging them to keep moving forward.

She went on to spotlight recent progress towards gender equality, noting that 3 of the 15 Palestinian Government Ministers were women, 2 of whom supervised more than one ministry, so that 5 of the 22 ministries were run by women.

For information media - not an official record