A woman's right to stand: Unveiling Palestine's all-female bloc
The tide could be turning for politics in the conservative West Bank next month as - in a landmark move for girl power in Palestine - an all-female parliamentary group have thrown themselves into the running for the upcoming municipal elections in Hebron.
The group, 'By Participating, We Can', will have some work on their hands convincing voters that women are up to the challenge. In traditional Palestine, women are more likely to be found homemaking or teaching than governing policy. In fact, in the West Bank just 16 per cent of women are employed, and in Hebron this falls to a meager 10 per cent. The group's leader, Maysoun Qawasmi, wants to see a dramatic rise in these figures: "…we want [women] to go further, to work like men in all possible jobs they can."
Qawasmi, 43, puts these words into action in her own life - a journalist for the news agency Waba, she holds training sessions to empower Palestinian women in the West Bank. If the group are elected she has promised to go ahead with controversial plans to open women-only sports clubs and other facilities that are sure to be poorly received by many of Hebron's conservative Muslims.
Whilst their chances of garnering any significant support are undeniably slim, the party's eleven female candidates are throwing themselves into campaigning, launching a door-to-door offensive on their target audience - fellow women. Like Qawasmi herself these women are living proof of the possibilities open to females in Hebron, with many working as self-made entrepreneurs.
The vote, set for October 20, is the city's first in over 35 years. And, if the group are successful in their mission, it could be one for the history books - not only will it give them the grounding for official political party status, it is also likely to challenge many of the taboos that are ingrained in Hebron's social make-up.
It would also follow a gradual shift towards female political empowerment in Palestine. In July, the city of Tulkarm in the northwestern West Bank hit headlines after a 15-year-old girl was appointed to the office of mayor for two months in a move that signaled a greater involvement of both young people and females in political decision making.
The fact that popular party Hamas is likely to sit out of the vote pending reconciliation with the city's current Fatah council might improve the chances of the female party. But, even if the group fails in its ultimate mission, Qawasmi believes that its very existence will push ajar a door for challenging women's rights in Hebron that once seemed firmly locked.
Do you think this marks a return to the women-power era of Hanan Ashrawi in Palestinian politics? What do you think of the all-female bloc's chances of success at the polls?