Meet the Politician and Women Rights Activist Zaheera Kamal
Zaheera Kamal was born in Jerusalem on July 14th 1945, the eldest daughter in a family of six girls and two boys, her father Ahmad Badawil Kamal, was a teacher in many schools as Jerusalem is known to be a beacon for students who seek education. Her mom Fakhreya comes from Turkish origins, but was born in Haifa, also descending from a line of knowledgeable men. Her dad was open minded, not differentiating between boys and girls; being his eldest he saw her both as a girl and boy at the same time, Zaheera said, “I was very lucky to have my dad, since kindergarten he looked out for my education and helped me in many ways. Even as a child I was very independent even walking to kindergarten alone at times. I commenced my education till I completed high school and my dream to peruse higher education in Egypt began.
What are some of the challenges that faced you as a woman in the political field?
The main challenge was overcoming society’s view on a woman as a whole and that the political arena is just for men, and any woman entering this domain is viewed as being manly, and going against traditions and society’s norm. From here came the importance to convince the population of the importance of a role that women play in politics. She is a citizen and it is one of her rights, as she too suffers from the injustice of the Israeli occupation and it is her right to fight for her homeland and be a part of its freedom just like any man.
The second challenge is to tie the nation’s struggle with society’s struggle. There were many taboo topics that one was forbidden to address such as violence against women as it was viewed as part of a family’s secret and should be kept hushed. But discussing such topics is very valuable as it impacts the family as a whole. Today talking about such topics publicly has become normal not only that but many parents take their daughters to centers for women to discuss social subjects that are of great relevance. Furthermore many laws have been placed and enforced to protect women against domestic violence.
A third challenge was facing the occupation’s formalities, as being politically active has its price by being arrested or getting hurt or even ending as a martyr. Personally I was arrested and placed under house arrest, and of course there are those thousands of martyrs from our people and thousands more being imprisoned many having life long sentences. From here comes our belief that what we as individuals do to fight for our home land is a right, and duty and requires sacrifice.
This was initiated from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Palestine which commenced in 2003; I was appointed as a minister for it. From there I witnessed a need for a center for research and documentation to help aid in women’s issues and other ministries. It also applies rules and regulations to help with empowering women; additionally it documents women’s experiences and their journeys in various walks of life. I presented the project to UNISCO and it was approved and signed to be set up in mid-2005, and in July 2006 I was put in charge to manage it as then a new ministry had taken place lead by Hamas which I was not a part of. The center did lots of political and systematic research in several areas and is used as references till today. The center also documented the role of women in politics since the 30’s up until the 80’s in four volumes, Dr. Fayha Abd Al Hadi implemented this program. This trial has been a precedent not just for Palestine, but for all other countries worldwide.
What are obstacles that stand in the way of empowering women in the Arab world in general and Palestine specifically?
The first obstacle is education; in some countries females are still not receiving proper education unlike the boys. Second is society’s outlook on the roles of men and women. As men are still seen as the bread winners and politicians while a woman is confined in her role as a home maker, and even if she is productive let’s say in farming for instance she is not paid for her work. The second obstacle that is tied to the first one is the woman’s financial dependence on the family or male members (father, brother or husband). A woman’s work is not viewed as a right but more of a need and she is never responsible for the family’s finances. Another problem is early age marriages for young girl, which make them enter motherhood at an early age, preventing them perusing further education or careers and if she is forced to work out of need, it will most likely be in services and at the lowest level in the job scale.
How do you see the state of Arab women?
There is evident improvement for women and education, and being involved in all fields yet still her participation in the work force is much lower than men and in many countries less than 25%. Lately an improvement has be witnessed for women in the workforce in Lebanon and Tunis and still under global level, maybe the only place with noticeable improvement is Mauritania which reaches women participation in the workforce to 60%. This has nothing to do with culture and traditions only on the women’s capabilities and strengths. Again there is a deficiency for women in politics and it is the greatest in the Arab world, as only 12.7% of women are taking parts in the political arena with the exception of Tunis and Morocco.
What is the role of a man in your life? Do you believe that behind every successful woman is a man?
The man is the father, brother, friend, colleague they had a positive impact in my political and practical journey. And just like behind every successful man is a woman the opposite is true as well. And I add that success comes from team work regardless this team is made up of men or women.
What advice do you give ambitious girls with political aspirations after your own personal experience and struggles?
First of all her participation requires her being part of a political group that is adequate with her own vision and goals, and this entails thoroughly getting to know all aspects of that group, its aims, goals, and ways of operation, and to get engaged in assignments and self-improvement through reading, and continuous training. The political process is one filled with knowledge, work, faith in principles, goals and commitment and compromise.
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