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Recently, I was in a meeting with a foreign diplomat that wanted to hear about the problems that young people in Gaza face, and hear our suggestions for how the international community can lend a helping hand. We were a group of seven young people with different professions and backgrounds. Towards the end of the 1.5 hour discussion, which touched on topics that ranged from problems that resulted from the Hamas-Fateh division to the lack of sport facilities in Gaza, a particularly quiet young lady in the group decided to speak out.
“As a young woman in Gaza, I face a real problem.” Eagerly waiting for her contribution, I was expecting her to say that despite their higher university enrollment and success rates, young women in Gaza find very few job opportunities, for instance. “I am not convinced by the Hijab (headscarf), but I cannot take it off.”
While this thoughtless question left the rest of the now embarrassed group trying to figure out a quick way to solve the mess, the look on the diplomat’s face signaled that she had just had an epiphany. She suggested that the international community she represents come to Gaza and teach its Hamas-suppressed people, particularly women, about their rights. Story of our life: the White Man (and Woman) comes to Palestine to teach us about our rights, while supporting the very entity that’s continuously depriving us from them. In Gaza, add to that blaming the deprivation on the local government, and taking the burden off the real depriver.
After the discussion was over, I spoke to the girl that asked the question, reminding her that the Hamas government does not ban girls from not wearing the hijab. If she comes from a conservative family or lives in a conservative area of the Strip, it’s not the government’s fault, and the foreign diplomat did not need to hear about it. There’s a fine line between our mildly conservative traditions and the rules that Hamas imposes on our society, and the two need not be mixed for the sake of our image.
Yet, no matter how hard we try or how vocal we are, international media will always focus on personal issues that are not representative of the public to describe a “problem” faced by the general population, such as the previous example. Why? It’s because women’s rights in particular is such a sensitive issue in the world and in the Middle East, and using it is guaranteed to evoke anger/sympathy in the heart of the reader, regardless of the logic behind the argument.
For instance, a few months ago, a “unique” story was covered by several major news agencies that described the harshness of the Hamas regime in Gaza by stating that women in Gaza are not allowed to drive motorcycles. This spurred a lot of talk and media attention among the goodhearted international media community, who are so very concerned about the situation of women under the Hamas government in Gaza.
But did any of these media agencies care to ask even as few as 10 women in Gaza what they thought of “the right to drive motorcycles”? No, because they know that these women, who really have no time to spare on such needless matters, would have ridiculed them. The women would be more wiling to discuss real issues that matter to them, such as women in Israeli jails, poverty, lack of adequate healthcare, lack of education/job opportunities, etc., all of which are mainly attributed to the Israeli occupation.
But no, international media decides to focus on mundane, yet “attractive” issues that affect very few women in Gaza, but that do a good job in ruining the image of Gaza and of Hamas. Real issues do not matter: put aside issues that are caused by the occupation; we already know those. Tell us about problems caused by the Hamas government.
A year after the Hamas government imposed a law banning women from smoking argeelah in public places in Gaza, international media agencies still raise the issue when they cover the situation of women, even though the law was cancelled. Today, news about banning male hairdressers from working in Gaza by Hamas still hits the headlines, even though the issue is restricted to the hairdressers themselves and their numbered customers, not the whole female population of the Gaza Strip.
I am against political affiliations, which is why my first and only affiliation is with Palestine and the Palestinian cause, not Fateh, Hamas or the PFLP. But I cannot stand the hypocrisy of international media in abusing a subject as sensitive as women’s rights to lift the burden of violating these rights off of Israel’s soldiers. When will the world understand that the deterioration of the situation of women in Gaza over the past four years is not solely attributed to the Hamas control of the Strip, but because of the Israeli siege, which tends to be left out in such discussions.
I take pride in saying that Gaza, specifically, and Palestine in general, is one of the few places in the world where women and men enjoy equality in rights, because the two are deprived from these laws by the Israeli occupation. Israel implements excellent standards of affirmative action in making sure that both men and women are equally deprived from their most basic human rights, so please stop attributing the results to others that do not deserve them.
Yasmeen El Khoudary is a freelance writer based in Gaza, occupied Palestine. She graduated from the American University in Cairo with a BA in Political Science, and works now as a self-employed writer and researcher. She blogs at yelkhoudary.blogspot.com
A version of this article first appeared on electronicintifada
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.