Highlighting the struggle for gender equality in Palestine
The Freedom Theatre was filled to the brim on International Women’s Day, with over 250 people coming together to recognise the achievements of Palestinian women and highlight the many challenges ahead on the road to gender equality and women’s full participation in all sectors of society.
Mustafa Sheta, general secretary of The Freedom Theatre, opened the event by paying tribute to all the women present, among them the female members of the theatre, and talked about the difficult reality of Palestinian women facing many levels of oppression. “We view this day as a very important occasion in Palestine”, said Mustafa Sheta and pointed out that The Freedom Theatre was hosting this event as part of its efforts to join together cultural work and activism.
Wafa Al-Afif, chairperson of the General Union of Palestinian Women, saluted the contribution of Palestinian women in the homeland and in the Diaspora in the struggle for freedom, right of return and an end to the occupation, for the creation of a free Palestinian state. Ms Al-Afif emphasised the need to end the internal political division, end the siege on Gaza, end all discrimination against women and work to raise the social status of women in Palestine. She especially urged the Palestinian president to sign the additional protocol to CEDAW, the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and work for its implementation.
Ann-Sofie Nilsson, Consul General of Sweden, pointed out that not only today is women’s day; every day is women’s day. Ms Nilsson spoke about why the Swedish government has decided to form a feminist foreign policy as part of the recognition that working for gender equality is crucial if the aim is a free, inclusive society. She expressed the need for progress in Palestine in this area, and brought up examples of the discrimination of women. “We must be brave and say that some things are not acceptable”, said Ms Nilsson. She also spoke of the need to include men and boys in the discussion, to enable women to take up more space in all areas of society. Ms Nilson ended by saying that today we celebrate not only women but also culture and freedom of expression, which is an arena where women are increasingly active in Palestine. For that the Consul General thanked the friends and colleagues who had put together today’s program, who are advancing cultural expression as a means of empowerment.
The sound of oud, violin and singing then filled the theatre hall as Jadayel Troupe from Al Kamandjati Association performed, followed by a music video, ‘On behalf of women’ depicting the reality of life for many Palestinian women.
Naqsh Popular Art Troupe performed their spectacular form of dabke (traditional Palestinian dance) to the audience’s loud cheers.
Alaa Shehada from The Freedom Theatre performed his piece ‘Khawla’, where he depicts a woman who is unhappily married since nine years and lives under severe pressure from her husband. Every day Khawla listens to a radio program where people call in to talk about their problems – and between the lines, about the problems of society as a whole. On this day, Khawla decides to call the radio station.
The day ended with a discussion between young artists on the conditions of the arts in Palestine, with representatives of Naqsh, the Palestinian Performing Arts Network, Al Kamandjati and The Freedom Theatre, headed by Ann-Sofie Nilsson, the Consul General of Sweden in Jerusalem.
Present at the event were representatives of the women’s organisations in the area, students and general public from Jenin city and camp, partners and friends from other parts of Palestine, among them the Palestinian Performing Arts Network, Naqsh, Al Kamandjati Association and the Palestinian Circus School, as well as international guests such as the Representative Office of Norway, the Representative of Canada to the Palestinian Authority Mr Douglas Scott Proudfoot, and the Consulate General of Sweden in Jerusalem.