The UN General Assembly in September may prove to be an important step on the road to a Palestinian state. Given the US position, there is now no chance of Security Council recognition of Palestine. However, recognition by General Assembly members – while changing nothing on the ground – could provide critical support for Palestinian claims to statehood.
In all the analysis of recent developments – mainly the Fatah and Hamas unity government and the Palestinian UN bid – there has been little discussion of the potential impact on Palestinian women. This is disappointing given the international community's commitment, through Security Council Resolution 1325, to addressing women's needs in conflict and including them in peace building.
There is no question that all Palestinians suffer under Israeli occupation. However, Palestinian women are affected in specific ways. Women often bear the burden of the socio-economic problems of occupation, in particular because of their responsibility to provide for their children. They suffer both from the militarised violence of the occupation and from the heightened levels of domestic violence that always accompany conflict. And – perhaps most notoriously – restrictions on freedom of movement mean that women are denied health care, often resulting in many women giving birth at checkpoints.
In particular, women suffer from the absence of a state to hold accountable for delivering their rights. While it does have institutions that address women's needs, fundamentally the Palestinian Authority does not have the authority, capacity or political will to take on the duties of a state in upholding women's rights or promoting equality. This will remain the case as long as occupation prevents a full, democratic Palestinian state from emerging.
Palestinian women are marginalised within political life and excluded from the highest levels of decision making. Under the current legal framework, Palestinian women are also not protected from domestic violence and face discrimination in relation to family law. Moreover, even when there are laws to protect women's rights, Palestinian security and justice institutions often cannot enforce these. Palestinian women activists therefore have a clear agenda. They want legal reform, a constitution that provides them with equal rights, oversight of religious courts, and quotas to get women into politics, the judiciary and the executive. But for any of this to happen, first of all they need a state.
Palestinian women activists and politicians are highly politically aware and organised. Their number one priority is the end of occupation and they are throwing all their support behind the September bid. Women are lobbying diplomats and mobilising their international networks to gather support at the General Assembly. But they are clear that once a Palestinian state is finally established they have a political agenda of their own.
Beyond the General Assembly bid, Palestinian women are watching with interest the results of the “Arab spring”. They see important lessons in the way women were excluded from power once the revolution ended in Egypt, as well as how large numbers of Tunisian women have entered politics through electoral quotas. Women in Gaza are following events in Syria with particular interest, knowing that the outcome there will affect the power of Hamas and have important implications for their own future. They are also wondering what the unity government may actually mean for them.
It is disappointing that the EU has not more actively supported the Palestinian General Assembly bid and that it did not succeed in persuading the US to take a more moderate position during Quartet talks. Now the major European powers must step up at the General Assembly, as the Palestinians require their support to give credibility to any vote for recognition. Palestinian women and men need not just an end to occupation, but their own state that they can hold to account. Recognition at the General Assembly only cannot provide this, but it will be a step in the right direction.