Monday, August 25, 2008

Women in Gaza

Women in strife-torn Gaza are taking huge steps forward. None moreso that the 53 women of the Hamas Police Force.

From the
Columbus Dispatch:
"In her year on the vice squad, Lt. Mariam al-Bursh has been on narcotics busts, interrogated male drug dealers and fought off a female assailant with her fists.

The 27-year-old is one of 53 women serving in the 11,000-strong Hamas police force, established after the Islamic militants seized Gaza by force more than a year ago.

Since taking power, Hamas has put some educated, motivated women in government jobs, promoted athletics for women, and boosted their presence on male-dominated TV.

Hamas says it wants to recruit the best and brightest, regardless of gender, and improve women's status in Gaza's conservative society.

But al-Bursh's working conditions show the limits of Hamas' tolerance.

On drug busts, she is unarmed and wears a long blue-and-gray robe and head scarf that reveals only her blue eyes. When she interrogates a drug dealer, a male colleague must be present, because Muslim custom doesn't allow her to be alone with a strange man.

No problem, al-Bursh said-- the measures are meant to protect her. "These limits are to the benefit of women. Not against them," she said.

The Hamas government says it employs more women than Fatah did. Female students outnumber men at Gaza City's Islamic University. Several girls and women appear in a children's show and a woman's program on Hamas' Al Aqsa TV, whose programming extols the virtues of the head scarf and teaches viewers how to be good Muslims.

But women's rights campaigners in Gaza say these changes are misleading and that Hamas' long-term strategy is to restrict their rights.

Activist Nadia Abu Nahla said it's impossible to get permits for women's rights demonstrations. "This democratic mobilization is not present," she said. "Women are afraid."

When Fatah ruled Gaza, female police officers trained with male colleagues. Now, it's a problem because the instructors are male.

Hamas has had to fine-tune the dress code, allowing female cops to have side slits in their robes to allow for easier movement. Al-Bursh can now wear pants under the robe."

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