Giving Voices to the Voiceless
Published by Berkshire Academic Press
Reviewer: Edmond Melhem
I would like to begin by saying that we, as believers in Antun Sa’adeh’s ideas, appreciate human knowledge and its benefits for society and believe that our quest for knowledge should not be for the sake of satisfying an intellectual curiosity, but for the benefit of our society and its progress. Knowledge, according to al-Mu’allim Butrus al-Bustani is the mother of inventions and discoveries and the source of prosperity and strength. By the same token, our leader, Antun Sa’adeh says: “Society is knowledge and knowledge is power.” Accordingly, we must attain knowledge to empower ourselves with solutions for our problems, to change our situation and to become a healthy and cohesive society void of discrimination of any kind; a society of awareness and understanding that contributes to human culture and global advancement and leads the world in intellectual innovations and scientific breakthroughs. Following from this, we consider Dr Jamileh’s work as a positive contribution to the advancement of our society by addressing Palestinian women’s problems and experiences and by understanding and changing their lives. Her work is also a valuable contribution to the feminist research and the ongoing international and academic discussion on the cultural, social and political causes of gender-based violence, which affects women throughout their lives.
The main focus of Dr Abu Duhou’s book is on the roots and causes of gender-based violence in Palestinian society and capture the Palestinian women’s experience of violence taking into consideration the effect of the Israeli occupation and the continuation of the violent political conflict in occupied Palestine. Dr Abu Duhou’s intention of writing her book, as she states and as its title implies, is to give voice to Palestinian women who are rarely heard because the culture requires that they are not to be seen or heard outside the confines of the home.
Through her analysis of the socio-cultural setting, and the religious, legal and political environment as well as the structure of gender relations in Palestinian society and through her systematic analysis of the socialisation process of both boys and girls within the Palestinian patriarchal society, Dr Abu Duhou has skilfully managed to conceptualise and describe different forms of violence and abuse endured silently by Palestinian women.
Dr Abu Duhou presents a very clear picture of the impact of religion on the jurisdictional realm, particularly on family law or the Personal Status Law, which is responsible for issues such as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. She also talks about customary law, which is known as urf, and which has its own set of rules and traditions. She discusses girls’ education, which is seen as a waste of time and effort because of their predetermined future. She discusses also marriage and divorce arrangements, especially early marriage, which is believed by society to protect women from committing dishonourable acts and ensure the protection of the family’s honour.
The book is rich with information and analysis of the socialisation process of Palestinian women from infancy through to adulthood. It describes the life cycle of subordination, which Palestinian women undergo. It follows the girl from birth and childhood through adolescence and adulthood, to engagement and marriage, then to life within marriage. This process of gender socialisation enforces patriarchal control and contributes to the perpetuation of the belief that men are superior and women are inferior and that all forms of violence and abusive conduct against women are acceptable as “normal”. The book also describes women’s status and rights within the domain of the family, which is the main perpetrator of patriarchal relations and which contributes to the devaluation of women and their dependency and oppression. As the author states: “It is the family that is responsible for dispersing and diffusing patriarchy through all of the societal institutions.”
I believe that Dr Abu Duhou through her empirical research and in-depth interviews as well as her effective techniques of information gathering has successfully achieved her objectives to give the voiceless Palestinian women a voice to express their preferences or grievances in any matters that concern them directly or indirectly. This voice and the reality of Palestinian women’s problems and perceptions can be heard and imagined by reading the touching and very affecting narratives she presents in the book, as obtained from participants and key informants.
Finally, I agree with Dr. Jamileh that providing legal protection for women through the reform of the Palestinian legal system will not be sufficient to ensure the provision of such reforms.
What is required, in my opinion, is a new socio-cultural ideology or a belief-system that treats people equally in every sphere of life and does not discriminate against women and denies them equal rights with men, but treats people as equal citizens.
What is required is a new moral ideology that have faith in the human intellect and that offers new teachings which educate people and implant national consciousness into their minds and affect changes in their attitudes and behaviours.
What is required is a new mentality that respects human beings and their choices, that promotes their potentialities and creativity, and that takes into consideration the welfare of society and the interest of the whole nation. With such a mentality, men and women can all be active participants in the battle for achieving national liberation and a beautiful and sublime existence.