Kudos to Conflicts Forum, which a few months ago published (PDF) a very informative study by the Hebron-area journalist and researcher Khaled Amayreh on the role of women in Hamas.
Amayreh’s study is in two parts. The first consists of interviews with three of Hamas’s female MPs: Sameera al-Halayka from the Hebron area, and Jamila Shanti and Huda Naim from Gaza. The second is Amayreh’s own analysis of the significant role women have played in bolstering Hamas.
In my 2006 article “Sisterhood of Hamas”, I had some good material from some time I spent with Shanti and other Hamas women right after the January 2006 elections. But this 26-page paper from Amayreh is much richer than the material I was able to get during that rushed reporting trip.
There’s a huge amount of really important material in this study. So many westerners still seem to have the completely erroneous idea that all Islamist movements are just like the Afghan Taliban in the very repressive way they treat women. Nothing could be further from the truth! All women in Palestine have access to basic good education– and Hamas and its supporters fully support the right of all females not only to study but also to work in paid jobs and in voluntary societies, and to participate fully in local and national politics. (Hence, the “phenomenon” of female Hamas MPs, like the three whom Amayreh interviews.)
At one point, Amayreh has this exchange with Halayka:
- Q: Have you sought to learn and benefit from Muslim women activists outside occupied Palestine?
A: On the contrary, it was women activists from outside occupied Palestine that sought to learn from us. In the aftermath of elections, we were contacted by women organizations, Palestinian (mostly those functioning among expatriate Palestinian communities) and non-Palestinian, enquiring about the modalities we used in our activism. It is true that our situation is unique because of the Israeli occupation and cannot in that sense be copied. However, it is clear that women’s groups can learn much from us in terms of empowerment and activism as well as Islamic education.
He has these exchanges with Shanti:
- Q: You have been active in Hamas’ women’s department for many years. How would describe the status of women within Hamas? Do they take you seriously?
A: Irrespective of western stereotypes, I can say that Hamas – a movement I know very well – is a moderate Islamic movement that adopts a comprehensive approach to society. This is probably the reason why Hamas has been able to receive widespread support from people. Hence, I can say that Hamas’ philosophy stems from Islam which gives women their rights and dignity. So, it is only natural that the status of women within Hamas is very advanced as women are considered a fundamental component of the movement. In fact, I can say for sure that women are more representative in Hamas than they are within any other Palestinian political movement. Take for example colleges and universities in occupied Palestine and you will find that a clear majority of the supporters of the Islamic student blocks are women. Similarly, it is widely believed that a majority of those who voted for Hamas in the 2006 elections were women. It is true though that formal representation of women within Hamas is still smaller in proportion to their proportion in the population. However, we view this as an evolutionary and cumulative process, which means that we will continue to make progress toward a more equitable representation of women within the
… Q: How did you cope with the mass arrest by Israel of Hamas’ Legislative Council members?
A: That was a real burden as more than 40 MPs were arrested as an act of political vendetta. But the bigger problem was the harassment of our sister MPs both by the Israeli occupiers and the PA. You know the sisters Mariam Saleh and Muna Mansur were both arrested by the Israelis and Samira Halaika was also harassed. This meant that Hamas in the West Bank became nearly voiceless which placed on us an additional burden here in the Gaza Strip since we had to make up for our colleagues who had been arrested and detained…
Q: How would you evaluate your experience in politics in the past five years?
A: We have been able to learn much in terms of working with the media. We have also acquired new skills in dealing with the public in ways that differ from our previous activities in the field of daawa (inviting people to Islam). In our new capacity as MPs, we have had to be constantly available to help people in every conceivable aspect. We also have gained a profound understanding of the judicial and legislative systems. For example, we had to have a thorough grasp of the laws, bylaws, regulations and norms pertaining to parliamentary processes. This has helped us assert ourselves as effective MPs. Nonetheless, the paralysis of parliamentary life following 2007 has not allowed us to reach our potentials.
And he had this exchange with Naim:
- Q: What role have Islamist women played in the resistance?
A: The resistance is more than just shooting and fighting. Strengthening our society against Israeli infiltration and manipulation is also a form of resistance. In fact, Islamist women and Palestinian women in general, have played an extremely important role in securing and protecting the internal front without which the resistance front would collapse. But there are, of course, many women who played an active role in the resistance, such as Reem al Rayashi and Fatema al Najar who were martyred, and Ahlam Tamimi who was imprisoned for life. Nonetheless, the main role of Islamist women has been to shield and fortify our society against moral decay.
I’m sorry I hadn’t known about this paper earlier. (Khaled, why didn’t you send it to me? You know I’m interested in the topic!)
Anyway, go read the whole thing. As I said, it’s a great resource.
CF has also, more recently, published another study on Islamist women. This one is “A Study on Women in Islam: An Islamic Vision of Women From the Viewpoint of Contemporary Shi’i Scholars in Lebanon”, by Amira Burghul (PDF). It looks mainly at texts written by Imam Mousa al-Sadr, Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah and Imam Sheikh Muhammad Mahdi Shams al-Din.