Ramallah – To further advance the development of gender equality in Palestine, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) invited Palestinian officials, partners, church members, Muslim judges, and international supporters to a Gender Justice For Palestine Conference.
Gender Justice For Palestine is a committee of men and women dedicated to the equality of women in Palestine. The committee members present at the conference were Jessica Lindberg Dik, Baseem Thabet, Scarlet Bishara, Ranan Issa, Alaa’ Saffouri, and Rania Salsaa.
The conference is the first stage in the development of the gender justice committee. A follow-up committee is planned for implementing actual change on the ground.
The conference participants, who will hopefully be a part of the gender justice movement going forward, listened to panelists and discussed what might be the next steps in implementing changes to women’s rights in Palestine.
In Palestine, legal cases concerning the family are handled by the religious community. Outside of the Islamic Sharia court, there are four Christian Ecclesiastical courts: the Catholic, the Anglican, the Orthodox, and the Lutheran courts. Each of these denominations has its own law.
With a diverse gathering of over 70 participants – men and women – the goal of the conference was to collect ideas for future workshops and committees. The collection of input will help the Gender Justice For Palestine committee develop Lutheran Personal Status Laws that can be used throughout Palestinian society and with other religions.
“The Lutheran Family Status Law of 2015 provides a sustainable framework for answering questions raised about how to rectify gender imbalances in the personal status laws in Palestine that are still promulgated by religious institutions of all faith backgrounds,” wrote ELCJHL Ecclesiastical Court Judge Scarlet Bishara who is the only Christian Judge in the Middle East, in a paper for The United Nations Gender Justice conference this winter in New York.
Along with Bishara, Sharia Court Judge Somoud al-Damiri who is the first woman Chief Prosecutor of Personal Status for the Upper Council of Sharia Courts in Palestine spoke of a need to come together – Christian and Muslim – on gender justice as citizens.
Justice al-Damiri stated, “We need to address this issue based on citizenship not just as Christians.” We should talk about partnership and citizenship in society.”
During the conference participants discussed the challenges that the gender justice initiative faces from men and women alike, stating cultural traditions that rigidly define masculinity and femininity, tribal laws, and the many segments of laws that a woman is subject to within the Palestinian society.
There are Ottoman laws, Jordanian laws, Egyptian laws, Israeli laws and tribal Bedouin laws that one woman may be subject to depending on the type of problem she has: family, civil, criminal, etc., Judge Bishara explained.
The issues of gender justice were looked at through Christian biblical studies, presented by ELCJHL Rev. Dr. Munther Issac and through Islamic studies by Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway, Director of the Islamic Research Center at Al Quds University.
Many guests suggested that the committee of Gender Justice For Palestine consider the influence of social media and other media.
“If we see how women around the world are doing things outside of the accepted roles here in Palestine then it will become more acceptable to us in Palestine,” a participant said.
It was also recommended to bring about social mobilization through the institutions in Palestine. How do we start it? How do we establish this? These are the questions presented by speaker, ELCJHL Hope Ramallah Principal Naseef Muallem.
The hope is that this conference will not be a one-time event but a bridge to an action plan, to a draft, to a charter, to the beginning of a movement, said Principal Muallem.
There were suggestions to begin the movement in our schools with the students and parents, changing the way fathers interact with daughters, for example.
Others were adamant that if the laws do not change, nothing will change.
Randa Siniora of The Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC) warned that we should not forget when asking for changes for Personal Status Laws to consider we have different geographical laws: the Jordanian law, the Israeli law, the Egyptian law, and how do we address them all?
Overall, Ranan Issa, the ELCJHL Women’s Desk Coordinator and member of the Gender Justice For Palestine committee said,
“ What we [the Gender Justice For Palestine committee] hope for is unification. We are working for unified laws among the Christians and the Muslims to create justice for all women in Palestine.”