ADVOCACY AND LOBBYING FOR WOMEN’S ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL RIGHTS
Women’s work is traditionally confined to the home, occasionally the community, or to support a family business. This type of work is usually unpaid and undervalued, and statistics on employment in the country do not reflect the value of informal work of women, including the countless micro and small enterprises they manage. Additionally, institutional barriers make social and economic empowerment for poor women difficult. Poor women lack access to information, institutions, and resources, which would prevent them from taking appropriate steps to improving their livelihoods.
In 2012 ASALA launched two campaigns to ensure the inclusion of women in national institutions, the recognition of their contributions to economic development in Palestine, and access to resources for women across Palestine. Both of those campaigns continue and have expanded today:
1. Registration of Women’s Informal Businesses in Chambers of Commerce
2. Women’s Right to Inheritance
Registration of Women’s Informal Businesses in Chambers of Commerce: ASALA launched the campaign to register women’s informal businesses in Chambers of Commerce (CoCs) to encourage Palestinian women micro and small entrepreneurs to formally register and ensure women entrepreneurs’ visibility within private sector bodies as a first step toward improving women’s role and participation in decision and policy making. Prior to the launch of this campaign, registration for rural women managing small and micro projects was impossible: Registration requirements were far beyond what poor women were able to meet, and price brackets set within the Federation of Palestinian Chambers of Commerce (FPCC) bylaws excluded micro enterprises. ASALA worked in close partnership with the FPCC to create a new bracket for poor women. Project capital requirements were lowered from 5000 JD to 3000 JD, registration fees from 120 JD to 20 JD, and extensive documentation requirements were reduced for women to prove existence of a valid business.
ASALA led a national campaign with both grassroots organizations and decision-makers to encourage women to register their projects in CoCs. While the campaign was originally launched in the Hebron Governorate, news of the campaign spread, leading to a 56% increase in the number of women registered in the West Bank in just 2 years. Women running microenterprises comprise 14% of those registrations. This is particularly important, as ASALA’s campaign reached areas where no women had registered throughout the Chambers’ history. The North Hebron Chamber of Commerce, for example, registered women for the first time under this campaign. It now has 11 female members.
In conjunction with this campaign, ASALA worked to establish Gender Units at Chambers of Commerce throughout the West Bank. Gender Units are female employees at each local Chamber of Commerce tasked with responsibility of providing customized services to women entrepreneurs. The Gender Units have been trained by ASALA to understand the full scope of obstacles for women entrepreneurs, so they are able to provide counseling, training, access points to markets, and other needs as identified by women registered in CoCs.
Due to the success of this campaign and the close relationship developed with the FPCC and Gender Units, ASALA has not only expanded the registration campaign beyond the borders of Hebron to target the rest of Palestine, it has also started a project aimed at updating Chamber of Commerce bylaws to facilitate election and active participation of women on Chamber of Commerce boards.
Campaign on Women’s Right to Inheritance: Often, obstacles to women being able to advance their economic status are a result of cultural factors that limit their access to financial gain. Because the right to inherit and own property falls into that list, ASALA works to combat cultural barriers to women’s right to inheritance. In 2013, ASALA carried out an extensive awareness raising campaign on women’s right to inheritance in Hebron. The campaign was carried out in close collaboration with the Supreme Judicial Council and the Fatwa Council to assist in dispelling commonly held, disputed religious and cultural beliefs stating that women do not have the right to inherit.
The goal of ASALA’s campaign was to enact a law that guarantees a mechanism for fair distribution of inheritance that would address the old habit of denying women their inheritance rights, especially land ownership. ASALA’s campaign worked on putting together a national coalition to support the campaign, which was made up of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Sharia Judicial Courts, Church Courts, governorates and municipalities, women’s organizations, civil society representatives, and lawyers, all of which contributed to the campaign.
ASALA held public awareness meetings in villages and cities throughout the Hebron area, used a mobile theatre to target whole families, and executed a media campaign to increase women’s awareness of their rights and empower them to advocate and support the campaign. The campaign’s positive impact leads the Sharia Courts to publicly release a memorandum of understanding addressing women’s rights to inheritance. In June 2014, it became obligatory that any distribution of inheritance shall be done in a manner that shows the value of the inheritance and how it is divided among family members before conducting any legal transaction related to property. This distribution must also take place no sooner than 4 months after the passing of family members, so that the grieving period has passed and the woman is well aware of what is rightfully hers before she decides to relinquish her inheritance to male family members. ASALA’s inheritance campaign has been incredibly successful, expanding throughout the West Bank in 2014 and 2015 and helping women throughout the country claim their rights in and out of courts. Under the current campaign, 32 women have taken their cases to court to successfully claim their rights, while an additional 33 have solved this issue within the family.